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Student Corner: Pasquino and the Freedom of Expression

On freedom of expression, Giordano Bruno, and ‘Pasquino’.


PROLAW students under the statue of Giordano Bruno in Rome, Dec 9 2011

There is a strong sense among the PROLAW students that freedom of expression is an indispensable component of sustainable development. People must be able to express their views on development issues, to call their elected leaders to account, to make their contribution to the formulation of policies that impact their life and well-being, and to express their individual and collective opinion in all matters of human endeavors. Many development programs fall short of their goals because the people whom the programs are intended to help are not properly consulted. As a result such development programs become an imposition, which the people, in all fairness, should not be compelled to accept.

The Johannesburg declaration is clear in asserting that freedom of expression is a pre-requisite to enhancing the rule of law and national and international security . It is therefore no surprise that basic freedoms such as freedom of expression and assembly are at the center of many class discussions.

On December 9 2011, to mark the end of the first successful first term of PROLAW, Professor William Loris, Program Director and Mrs. Loris guided the students on a moonlight walking tour in the historical center of Rome. The tour started at the monument of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) in the Campo de Fiori, and ended at the statue of ‘Pasquino‘ in Piazza PasquinoGiordano Bruno was a renowned 16th century philosopher whose controversial views on religion and science led to his being burned at the stake in 1600 by the Authorities.  He is now a symbol for the perils of intolerance.  The ‘Pasquino’ is a 3rd century BC Hellenistic style Roman statue; one of the ancient symbols of the universal aspiration for freedom of expression.  The Pasquino was unearthed from the ruins of Rome sometime in the 15th century and installed on a pedestal just near the Piazza Navona, where he can still be found.  In line with a tradition, which began in the 15th century, the Pasquino serves as a favorite and relatively safe place for public posting of individual opinion about public officials and issues. The etymology of the English word Pasquinade that means “anonymous lampoon or satire that is traditionally displayed in a public place” is derived from the Italian word ‘Pasquinate‘ which carries the same meaning.

The freedom of expression is the foundation upon which both the Magna Carta (1215) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR (Art 19) rest.  It is one of the foundational building blocks of the UN Charter and is guaranteed in the constitutions of most of the world’s sovereign states. While Giordano Bruno paid the ultimate price for his ideas, the Pasquino has been said to be speaking out on the issues of his time since the Middle Ages. The world’s modern constitutional architects seem to have learned from the histories of both.

The statue ‘Pasquino‘, photo courtesy of a PROLAW student during the walking tour


1 [The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1996/39 (1996)]