Chicago Journal of International Law

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Shortly after Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the European Union (EU) began suspending Russian state-sponsored media outlets from broadcasting within the EU because they were spreading propaganda for war. The EU also required social media companies to remove user speech containing the banned broadcasts and prohibited search engines from displaying content from those outlets in search results. The EU’s General Court upheld the outlets’ suspension as consistent with both European human rights norms and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which contains a mandatory prohibition on propaganda for war in Article 20(1). The EU’s outright ban and the General Court’s decision have generated questions among governments, companies, and civil society about the meaning of ICCPR Article 20(1), a provision the international community has generally overlooked. This Essay unpacks the scope of Article 20(1)’s prohibition on war propaganda, providing an overview of existing interpretations and then proposing a way to reconcile the ICCPR’s ban on propaganda for war with the treaty’s otherwise broad protections for freedom of expression.

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