Freedom of Expression

Press release R124/15

Office of the Special Rapporteur calls for an end to the impunity for crimes against journalists

November 2, 2015

Washington, D.C. – On the "International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists," and in light of the magnitude of the violence against journalists and media workers in recent years, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls on states in the hemisphere to develop a strategic and harmonized approach on this issue and end the impunity that persists in most of these crimes.


From 2010 to date, 150 journalists and media workers were killed in the Americas, allegedly for reasons related to the exercise of freedom of expression, because they informed, discussed or commented on events and situations that were happening in their community. This means that every 14 days a journalist is killed in the Americas.


Very few masterminds of these crimes received some form of condemnation and much of the investigations are moving very slowly or show serious shortcomings which have impeded progress on the hypothesis of the links to their occupation. To prevent the violence that communicators have suffered across the continent does not repeat and perpetuate, it is essential to investigate, prosecute and convict all those responsible, both perpetrators and masterminds.


The UN General Assembly adopted November 2 as the International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists in 2013, and since all human rights protection agencies join this commemoration to remember one of the most extreme forms of censorship that exists: the elimination of critic voices or those who report on matters of public interest.


Since its creation, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has addressed on a priority basis the problem of violence against journalists and has driven both the development of standards for the prevention and protection of such violence, as in the attempt of justice for the victims and their families, through the system of individual petitions and cases of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH). The situation of violence and impunity of crimes against journalists remains as a priority for this office and to all the Inter-American System of Human Rights, as recently stated Humberto Sierra Porto, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in a preparatory event for this International Day held in San Jose, Costa Rica.


In the regional context, one in three of the killings documented by this Office occurred in Mexico (55 in total), and almost one in five happened in Honduras (28 in total). Brazil, with 25 murders, ranked third on the list. Colombia (11), Guatemala (9) Peru (6) and Paraguay (4) are also countries where this issue is a real problem in the period studied. In the previous decade such violence was also at these levels, although the magnitude varied depending on the country, and also impunity rates were deplorable, so it is not a new topic.


Violence against journalists has been exacerbated in those areas or territories in which there is a strong presence of organized crime. In many cases, unfortunately, it has been verified that these organizations use violence in collusion with state agents.


When the violence in a country becomes a structural problem linked to organized crime, it is an obligation of States to adopt special mechanisms to protect threatened journalists, human rights defenders and political or social leaders.


Also, from the Inter-American system States are reminded that it is important "to recognize, from the highest authorities of the State, the legitimacy of the journalistic profession, and condemn attacks committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression."


The Commission has indicated that violence against journalists or media workers due to the exercise of their profession not only affects the ability to listen to these voices, but it violates the right of the whole society to seek and receive all kinds of information and ideas freely and peacefully.


As noted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, "the free exercise of journalism can only be done when the people who do it are not victims of threats or physical, mental or moral attacks or other acts of harassment."


For the Inter-American system it is essential for States to investigate fully, effectively and impartially the killings of journalists, clarify their motives and judicially determine the relationship they may have with journalism and freedom of expression. The authorities should not rule out the practice of journalism as a motive for the murder or assault before the investigation is completed. To break the cycle of aggression it is necessary to end impunity.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.


Visit our interactive site on journalist murders online (in Spanish):