Global Freedom of Expression

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Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prizes

About the Prizes

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger created, in 2015, the first prizes recognizing judicial decisions and legal representation around the world that strengthen freedom of expression by promoting international legal norms. The prizes are awarded every two years by the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, the Initiative that Bollinger established in 2014.

Prize Categories

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Peter Noorlander, Chief Executive Officer, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Nani Jansen, Legal Director, Media Legal Defence Initiative, Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University, Dr. Agnes Callamard, Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information, Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso / Columbia University

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prizes will be awarded, in two categories:

  1. Significant Legal Ruling: the prize shall recognize a ruling or decision rendered anywhere in the world that has advanced or strengthened global understanding of international
    standards of Freedom on Expression and Information. Preference shall be given to rulings and decisions rendered in the last 12 months, although older rulings and decisions may also be considered.
  2. Excellence in Legal Service: the prize shall recognize a legal brief, legal amicus brief or legal defense anywhere internationally that has advanced or strengthened global understanding of and international norms of Freedom of Expression and Information.  Preference shall be given to services rendered in the last 12 months, although older services may also be considered.

The Prize Rules may be read here.

Eligibility and Selection Criteria

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression welcomes nominations, including self-nominations, from jurists and other legal experts, academics, and non-governmental organizations actively engaged in protecting freedom of expression.  Nominees from around the world are eligible.

Prize winners are selected based on the following criteria:

  1. The candidate’s judicial ruling, legal brief, or legal defense shall demonstrate sound legal reasoning and advance the legal understanding of the issues under consideration.
  2. The nominee’s judicial ruling, legal brief, or legal defense shall demonstrate a global understanding of freedom of expression. This will be evaluated based on appropriate laws, standards, policies, or decisions regarding freedom of expression and information that have been referenced in the nominee’s judicial ruling, legal brief, or legal defense.
  3. The judicial ruling or the nominee’s ruling, brief, or defense must offer significant protection to freedom of expression.
  4. All nominees shall have established a reputation for integrity and a commitment to human rights, rule of law, and legal excellence.

Prize Committee

The prizes are to be judged by an independent panel of experts, in law, advocacy, journalism, and human rights, to be chaired by Bollinger. The Prize Committee members to date are:

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  • Lee C. Bollinger, President, Columbia University
  • Catalina Botero, former Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Sir Nicolas Bratza, former President of the European Court of Human Rights
  • Lydia Cacho, human rights defender, journalist, author
  • Agnes Callamard, Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, Columbia University
  • Sarah Cleveland, Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights; Member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee
  • Irene Khan, Secretary General, International Development Law Organization

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression may invite additional experts to join the committee.

Past Prize Winners

The 2018 Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prize Winners:

Dunja Mijatovic, Representative on Freedom of the Media, OSCE, Vidar Stromme, Chairman, SCHJODT Law Firm, Dr. Agnes Callamard, Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression and Information, Dirk Voorhoof, Professor, Faculty of Political and Social Sciences, Communication Studies, and Law Faculty, Ghent University,Kerem Altiparmak, Director of Human Rights Centre, Faculty of Political Sciences, Ankara University,Yaman Akdeniz, Professor of Law, Istanbul Bilgi University, Photo Credit: Eileen Barroso / Columbia University

For Excellence in Legal Service:

The European Roma Rights Center

Between 2015 and 2017, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an NGO based in Hungary, intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in cases focusing on the relationship between racism against Roma and freedom of expression in Europe. The interventions on behalf of Roma in Europe sought to give the European Court a vocabulary through which to think of freedom of expression, and to demonstrate that the Roma themselves must be able to rely on their freedom of expression in their resistance to oppression and racial hatred.

For a Significant Legal Ruling:

The “Sugary Drinks” Decision (Colombia)

The “Sugary Drinks” Decision, of August 25, 2017, rendered by the Constitutional Court of Colombia found that prohibiting the NGO Educar Consumidores from broadcasting a commercial about the health risks of sugary drinks amounted to prior restraint. According to the Decision, the prohibition violated the consumers’ right to receive information about the health risks of sugary drinks. At the heart of the Decision was the notion set out by the Inter-American Court of Human Right that “a society that is not well informed is not truly free.” It recognized that freedom of expression includes not only the right to express one’s thoughts but also the right to seek, receive, access, and disseminate information.

2016 Prize Winners 

2015 Prize Winners