Global Freedom of Expression


The “Sugary Drinks” Decision and European Roma Rights Centre Are Awarded 2018 Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prizes

NEW YORK, N.Y. (April 23, 2018) — The 2018 Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prizes will go to the Constitutional Court of Colombia and the European Roma Rights Centre.

The awards, established by Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger, recognize judicial decisions and legal representation from around the world that strengthen freedom of expression by promoting international legal norms.

Director Agnès S. Callamard, a world-renowned advocate for human rights and humanitarian missions worldwide and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), has led Columbia’s initiative from its inception in 2013. She will preside over the Justice for Freedom of Expression conference and the third biennial award ceremony on April 25 at Columbia University.

“Misinformation and intolerance are defeated when fact-based activism and human rights convictions are backed by astute strategic litigation and a global understanding of free speech norms. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is wholly committed to supporting the exemplary work of institutes and advocates around the world, such as this year’s prize winners. They have demonstrated the importance of freedom of expression and information, the capacities of this fundamental right to protect our right to health, to protect us against discrimination, and to preserve our dignity despite censorship backed by powerful business interests or grounded in hatred and bigotry.”

This year’s prize categories received robust, highly competitive nominations from every region in the world. The 2018 prizes are awarded as follows:

For Significant Ruling:

The “Sugary Drinks Decision

Constitutional Court of Colombia

On April 5, 2017, the Constitutional Court of Colombia handed down a landmark ruling (Decision T-543/2017) holding that consumers have the right to be informed about the health risks of consuming sugary drinks. The case involved Educar Consumidores, a non-profit that was ordered to stop broadcasting a public service announcement describing the hazards of excessive sugar consumption. The Colombian Constitutional Court held that prohibiting an NGO from broadcasting such a commercial violated the right of consumers to information and that banning the PSA was a form of censorship.

This ruling could not be more topical and important in view of the global epidemic of obesity and diabetes. By guaranteeing the right of consumers to access information about the products they consume, the ruling gives meaning to the essential core of their right to information.

For Excellence in Legal Service:

The European Roma Rights Centre

Interventions in Cases Protecting Free Speech and Human Rights of Roma

From 2015 to 2017, the European Roma Rights Centre, based in Budapest, engaged in third-party interventions (similar to amicus curiae briefs) exposing the serious discrimination and racism experienced by a particularly oppressed community, the Roma. Two interventions involving the Centre’s work on antigypsyism and freedom of expression in Europe are recognized.

In Magyar Jeti Zrt. v. Hungary, the Centre wrote on behalf of a Romani civil society leader sued for condemning racists and linking them to a far-right Hungarian political party with a history of anti-Roma aggression. The Centre argued that freedom of expression constitutes the best tool in the hands of oppressed minorities to respond to racism and hatred. In Lacatus v. Switzerland, the Centre intervened on behalf of a Romani woman convicted and fined under Geneva’s criminal code for begging.  ERRC argued that begging was a form of freedom of expression and that anti-begging laws did not merely silence the poor, but specifically aimed to silence Roma.

The nominations came from many regions of the world and reflect a wide range of issues and threats confronting freedom of expression globally, including: social media, online surveillance, national security, political expression, defamation and press censorship.