Freedom of Expression

Press release R106/23

RELE rejects murders of journalists in the region and calls on States to redouble efforts to prevent and protect the press

June 1, 2023

Washington D.C. - The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) denounces the  situation of violence against journalists in the Americas and urges the States of the region to investigate  the facts exhaustively and independently, and  punish the crimes in an exemplary manner, as well as to  redouble their efforts to prevent these attacks and  Protect those who are at risk.

According to public information and reports received, so far in 2023, at least 11 journalists have been killed in the exercise of their profession or for reasons that could be linked to their work: Luis Gabriel Pereira (Colombia)*; Dylan Lions (United States); Eduardo Fernando Mendizábal Gálvez (Guatemala)*; Dumesky Kersaint, Ricot Jean and Paul Jean Marie (Haiti); Abisaí Pérez Romero, José Ramiro Araujo Ochoa, Gerardo Torres Rentería and Marco Aurelio Ramírez (Mexico); and Alexander Álvarez (Paraguay).

For the Office of the Special Rapporteur, these events confirm the situation of risk and vulnerability of journalists and media workers in the Americas. During the 186th Period of Sessions of the IACHR, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression participated in a thematic hearing on the protection of journalists and defenders in the region, in which civil society organizations presented information on the incessant violence against the press in the Americas, including murders,  Aggressions, threats, kidnappings, surveillance, criminalization and stigmatizing speeches by public officials against journalists. On this occasion, the IACHR expressed its alarm in this context and stressed the need to investigate these events and analyze the causes and consequences of the phenomenon.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that the murders of journalists constitute the most extreme and reprehensible form of violence and censorship against the press. As the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established, "journalism can only be carried out freely when the persons who carry it out are not victims of threats or physical, mental or moral aggression or other acts of harassment. Such acts constitute serious obstacles to the full exercise of freedom of expression."

For its part, the IACHR has stated in the IACHR's Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression that "[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation, threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of the media, violate the fundamental rights of individuals and severely restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of States to prevent and investigate these acts, punish their perpetrators and ensure adequate reparation for the victims."

Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have referred to the chilling effect that violence has on journalists, as well as on citizens who seek to denounce abuses of power, irregularities, or illicit acts of any kind. This chilling effect can only be avoided, according to the Commission, "through decisive action by the State to punish those responsible, as befits its obligation under international and domestic law."

With respect to violence against journalists, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has highlighted the  importance of three positive obligations of States, which emanate from the rights to life, personal integrity, and freedom of expression: the obligation to prevent, the obligation to protect, and the obligation to investigate, prosecute, and criminally punish those responsible for these crimes.

In relation to the obligation of prevention, the Office of the Rapporteur stresses the importance of public authorities adopting a discourse that contributes to preventing violence against the press and, on the contrary, refraining from issuing stigmatizing statements that increase the risk inherent in their work. This also implies that they constantly, clearly, publicly and firmly recognize the legitimacy and value of journalistic work, even when the information disseminated may be critical, inconvenient and inopportune for the interests of the government.

In view of the foregoing considerations, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls on the States of the region to investigate in a complete, effective, and impartial manner these crimes, which affect society as a whole, to clarify their motives, and to judicially determine the relationship they may have with their activity as communicators. In this regard, it emphasizes the importance that, during the investigations, the authorities do not rule out the hypothesis of the link with journalistic activity and freedom of expression.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE) is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in order to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

* The State of Guatemala informed the Office of the Special Rapporteur that it is conducting the corresponding criminal investigation to help clarify the facts and identify those responsible for the crime against the journalist. Also, the State of Colombia expressed its commitment to clarify the facts of the murder and to promote a culture of respect and protection of the work of journalists, with the objective of strengthening the protection programs for journalists and social communicators at risk due to their profession.

Access the press release in French here.