Freedom of Expression

7 - Chapter VI - Final Considerations and Recommendations



1.      The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression points out that, judging by this report, freedom of expression in the Americas remains curtailed in many countries and in a number of different ways.


2.      Under the authoritarian regimes that used to hold sway in the Americas, freedom of the press was controlled by brute force, through the confiscation of publications, censorship, arrests, forced disappearances, restrictive laws, and assassinations.  Today, many of these old practices have fallen into disuse and yet, at the same time, subtle and sophisticated ways of curtailing freedom of the press have arisen. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to note that assassinations of practicing journalists and other media personnel continue.


3.      Most countries in the Hemisphere still have laws prohibiting insults against public officials (leyes de desacato).  Although these laws are used to start legal proceedings, they rarely conclude with prison sentences, since they have been almost universally condemned by different international human rights organizations. Nevertheless, there is clearly an intent to intimidate journalists by taking them to court in numerous countries in the Hemisphere.  Nowadays, many government officials or public figures also resort to more surreptitious ways of silencing their critics.  The use of calumny, libel, and slander laws in much the same way as leyes de desacato frequently has the same effect of gagging journalists reporting critically on matters of public concern.


4.      Many countries also allow no real access to information held by the government, when access of that kind is vital if the right to freedom of expression is to be meaningful.  In places where laws allowing access to information have been implemented, they have helped to bring out into the open cases in which government officials have abused the authority vested in them or are guilty of misconduct and to insist on accountability.  Nevertheless, in many countries of the region, there are no clear and straightforward procedures through which the press or members of the public can elicit information.


5.      Additionally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur, would like to emphasize the need that Member States continue to advance in the promulgation of laws and in the development of policies and practices that guarantee the protection for freedom of expression and opinion.  To this effect, the Rapporteurship celebrates the positive actions highlight in Chapter II of this Report, with reference to the abolition of the desacato laws in one country of the hemisphere and the promulgation of laws of access to information and/or habeas data actions in three counties of the region.  The Rapporteurship hopes that these efforts will multiply in the future so as to reflect them in other reports of this Office.   


6.      The problematic issues mentioned in this report–the safety of journalists, the existence and enforcement of restrictive legislation, the dearth of effective procedures for obtaining access to information, and the lack of effective channels for participation by socially excluded or vulnerable sectors–have been the prime concern of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression since its inception.  Thus, with a view to safeguarding and strengthening freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression would like to make the following recommendations to States:


a.                  Conduct serious, impartial, and effective investigations into murders, kidnappings, threats, and acts of intimidation against journalists and other media personnel.


b.                  Bring those responsible for the murder of, or acts of aggression against, reporters and other media personnel to trial by independent and impartial courts.


c.                  Publicly condemn such acts in order to prevent actions that might encourage these crimes.


d.                  Promote the repeal of laws defining contempt (desacato) as a crime, since they limit public debate, which is essential to the workings of democracy, and are not in keeping with the American Convention on Human Rights.


e.                  Promote the amendment of libel and criminal slander laws to prevent them being used in the same way as the desacato laws and incorporate into domestic legislation the dual protection system with respect to public and private persons, which in practice means accepting the "actual malice" doctrine.


f.                    Enact laws allowing access to information and complementary rules governing their implementation in line with international standards.


g.                  Promote policies and practices that effectively permit freedom of opinion and access to information, along with equal participation by all segments of society in such a way that their needs, views, and interests are incorporated in the design of, and decisions on, public policies.


h.                  Finally, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the states bring their domestic law into line with the parameters established in the American Convention on Human Rights and that Article IV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression be fully implemented.



7.      The Rapporteur thanks all the states that have worked with it this year, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Executive Secretariat for their constant support.  Lastly, the Rapporteur offers a vote of thanks to all those independent journalists and other media personnel who, day after day, fulfill their important function of keeping society informed.