A. Mandate and Competence of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
1. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is a permanent office, with functional autonomy and its own budget. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights created the Office in exercise of its authority and competence. The Office operates within the legal framework of the Commission.
2. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is an organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) whose principal function is to promote the observance and defense of human rights and to serve as an advisory body to the Organization on this subject. The Commission’s authority derives mainly from the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Charter of the Organization of American States. The Commission investigates and rules on complaints of human rights violations, conducts on-site visits, prepares draft treaties and declarations on human rights and prepares reports on the human rights situation in countries in the region.
3. The Commission has addressed issues pertaining to freedom of expression through its system of individual petitions, ruling on cases of censorship, crimes against journalists and other direct or indirect restrictions on freedom of expression. It has spoken out about threats against journalists and restrictions placed on the media in its special reports, such as the Report on Contempt (Desacato) Laws. The Commission has also studied the status of freedom of expression and information through on-site visits and in its general reports. Lastly, the Commission has also requested precautionary measures for urgent action to prevent irreparable harm to individuals. In several cases, such measures were adopted to ensure full enjoyment of freedom of expression and to protect journalists.
4. At its 97th regular session in October 1997, and in exercise of its authority under the Convention and its own Rules of Procedure, the Commission decided, by unanimous vote, to create the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (hereinafter “Office of the Special Rapporteur”). It was created as a permanent unit that is functionally autonomous and has its own operating structure. In part, the Office of the Special Rapporteur was created in response to the recommendations of broad sectors of society in different States throughout the hemisphere who shared a deep concern over the constant restriction of freedom of expression and information. Moreover, through its own observations regarding the situation of freedom of expression and information, the IACHR perceived serious threats and obstacles to the full and effective enjoyment of this right, which is so vital for the consolidation and advancement of the rule of law. At its 98th special session in March of 1998, the Commission determined what the general characteristics and functions of the Office of the Rapporteur would be and decided to establish a voluntary fund for economic assistance for the Office. In 1998, the Commission announced a public competition for the position of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Americas. After evaluating all the applications and interviewing several candidates, the Commission decided to appoint Argentine attorney Santiago Alejandro Canton as Special Rapporteur. He began his work on November 2, 1998.
5. In creating the Office of the Special Rapporteur, the Commission sought to stimulate awareness of the importance of full observance of freedom of expression and information in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role it plays in the consolidation and advancement of the democratic system and in ensuring that other human rights are protected and violations reported; to make specific recommendations on freedom of expression and information to member States to promote adoption of progressive measures to strengthen this right; to prepare specialized reports and studies on the subject; and to respond quickly to petitions and other reports of violations of this right in an OAS member State.
6. In general terms, the Commission stated that the duties and mandates of the Office of the Rapporteur should include, among others: l. Prepare an annual report on the status of freedom of expression in the Americas and submit it to the Commission for consideration and inclusion in the IACHR’s Annual Report to the General Assembly of the OAS. 2. Prepare thematic reports. 3. Gather the information necessary to write the reports. 4. 0rganize promotional activities recommended by the Commission including, but not limited to, presenting papers at relevant conferences and seminars, educating government officials, professionals and students about the work of the Commission in this area and preparing other promotional materials. 5. Immediately notify the Commission about emergency situations that warrant the Commission’s request for precautionary measures or provisional measures that the Commission can request from the Inter-American Court, in order to prevent serious and irreparable harm to human rights. 6. Provide information to the Commission about the prosecution of individual cases pertaining to freedom of expression.
7. The Commission’s initiative in creating a permanent Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression enjoyed the full support of OAS member States at the Second Summit of the Americas. At the Summit, the Chiefs of State and Heads of Government of the Americas recognized the fundamental role that freedom of expression and information plays in human rights and in a democratic system and expressed their satisfaction at the creation of this Office. In the Declaration of Santiago, adopted in April 1998, the Chiefs of State and Heads of Government expressly stated that:
We agree that a free press plays a fundamental role [in the area of human rights] and we reaffirm the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression, information, and opinion. We commend the recent appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, within the framework of the Organization of American States.
8. At the same Summit, the Chiefs of State and Heads of Government of the Americas also expressed their commitment to support the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The Plan of Action from the Summit contains the following recommendation:
Strengthen the exercise of and respect for all human rights and the consolidation of democracy, including the fundamental right to freedom of expression and thought, through support for the activities of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in this field, in particular the recently created Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
9. At the Third Summit of the Americas held in Quebec City, Canada, the Heads of State and Government ratified the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and added the following:
[Our Governments will] Continue to support the work of the inter-American human rights system in the area of freedom of expression through the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, as well as proceed with the dissemination of comparative jurisprudence, and seek to ensure that national legislation on freedom of expression is consistent with international legal obligations.
B. The Office of the Special Rapporteur’s Principal Activities in the Year 2001
10. Since taking office in November 1998, the Special Rapporteur has participated in numerous events aimed at publicizing the creation and objectives of the Office. Widespread awareness of the existence of the Office of the Special Rapporteur will contribute to its ability to successfully carry out its assigned tasks. Activities to promote and publicize the Office’s work mainly consisted of participating in international forums, coordinating activities with non-governmental organizations, advising states on proposing legislation related to freedom of expression and informing the public about the Office of the Special Rapporteur through the press. The main objectives of these activities were to increase the awareness among various sectors of society regarding the importance of the inter-American system for the protection of human rights, international standards governing freedom of expression, comparative jurisprudence on the subject and the importance of freedom of expression for the development of a democratic society.
11. The Office of the Special Rapporteur has become a strong proponent of legislative reform in the area of freedom of expression. Through its relationships with member States and civil society organizations, the Office has launched a collaborative effort in support of initiatives to amend laws restricting the right to freedom of expression and to adopt legislation that will enhance people’s right to participate actively in the democratic process through access to information.
12. The Office of the Special Rapporteur employs various means to protect freedom of expression. In the course of its daily work, the Office:
13. Analyzes complaints of violations of freedom of expression received by the Commission and conveys to the Commission its opinions and recommendations with regard to opening cases. Follows up on cases open before the Commission pertaining to violations of this right. Requests that the Commission solicit precautionary measures from the member States to protect the personal integrity of journalists and media correspondents who are facing threats or the risk of irreparable harm. Makes recommendations to the Commission regarding hearings to be granted during regular sessions and participates with the Commission in hearings having to do with alleged violations of freedom of expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur also works with the parties to achieve friendly settlements within the framework of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
14. Since the creation of the Office, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has carried out advisory studies and made recommendations to some member States regarding the modification of existing laws and articles that impinge on freedom of expression. The objective in these situations is to make domestic legislation compatible with international standards to more fully protect enjoyment of this right. While preparing its thematic and annual reports, the Office of the Special Rapporteur corresponds with member States to request information on specific subjects related to freedom of expression.
15. The Office of the Special Rapporteur receives information through its informal hemispheric network on the status of freedom of expression in member States. Information is submitted by various organizations monitoring this right, journalists and other sources. In cases considered to involve a serious violation of freedom of expression, the Office of the Special Rapporteur issues press releases about the information it has received, expresses its concern to the authorities, and makes recommendations for reinstating this right. In other cases, the Office of the Special Rapporteur directly contacts government authorities to obtain further information and/or to request that the government take measures to rectify the harm that has been inflicted. The Office of the Special Rapporteur has set up a database comprising numerous press agencies, freedom of expression and human rights monitoring organizations, attorneys specializing in the field and universities, among others, for the dissemination of releases and/or any other information considered relevant.
16. Due to the Office of the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to publicize its activities and mandate, diverse sectors of civil society have been able to approach the Office to protect their right to impart, disseminate and receive information.
1. Promotion and Dissemination Activities
17. The following are the principal promotion and dissemination activities carried out by the Office of the Special Rapporteur in 2001.
18. In January 2001, the Special Rapporteur took part in the Conference on the Role of a Free Press and Freedom of Expression in the Development and Consolidation of Democracies in Latin America and the Caribbean, to which he was invited by the University of Miami, Florida. At that Conference, the Special Rapporteur described the principal activities of his Office and discussed the general status of freedom of expression in the Americas.
19. In March, the Special Rapporteur was asked to be a panelist at the Mid-Year Meeting of the Inter-American Press Association held in Fortaleza, Brazil. In April, he participated in the 111th special session of the IACHR in Santiago, Chile. On April 19-23, the Special Rapporteur attended the Third Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City, Canada. At that Summit, the Heads of State and Government ratified the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and added the following: “[Our Governments will] Continue to support the work of the inter-American human rights system in the area of freedom of expression through the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, as well as proceed with the dissemination of comparative jurisprudence, and seek to ensure that national legislation on freedom of expression is consistent with international legal obligations.”
20. On the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, in May the Special Rapporteur was invited by UNESCO to take part in the commemorative conference in Windhoek, Namibia, which was attended by the principal organizations devoted to the defense of freedom of expression. The central theme of the conference was evaluation of the status of freedom of expression in the world and the challenges ahead. In May, the Special Rapporteur traveled to Quito, Ecuador to take part in the conference Freedom of Expression in America, organized by the Postgraduate School of International Studies of the Central University. During that same month, Dr. Canton also took part, along with senior members of the IACHR, in the Third Argentine Seminar on Supranational Legality. That seminar was held in Córdoba, Argentina, organized by that city’s Bar Association. At both meetings, the Special Rapporteur described the general status of freedom of expression in the Americas and the principal concerns of his Office in this area.
21. In June, the Special Rapporteur, together with other senior members of the IACHR, took part in the OAS General Assembly held in San José, Costa Rica. In response to an invitation by the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, Dr. Canton was a panelist, specializing in freedom of expression, in the Institute’s annual Interdisciplinary Course in Human Rights.
22. In November 2001, Dr. Santiago Canton took part in the International Seminar for the Promotion of Freedom of Expression organized by Article XIX in London. There, he had the opportunity to meet for the fourth time with the other two rapporteurs on freedom of expression in the world, Abid Hussain (UN) and Freimut Duve (OSCE). At the end of the seminar, the three Rapporteurs issued a joint declaration on challenges to freedom of expression in the new century, including countering terrorism, regulating the Internet, and regulating broadcasting.
23. In August 2001, Dr. Santiago Canton took office as Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. At its 114th regular session, the IACHR announced a competition for the post of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. After evaluating all the applications and having interviewed several of the candidates, the Commission appointed Dr. Eduardo Bertoni, who will take up the post on May 2002.
2. Country visits
24. In June 2001, the Commission conducted an on-site visit to Panama, in which Dr. Santiago A. Canton participated as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. In December 2001, the Commission conducted an on-site mission to Colombia, in which the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression participated. In both these visits, reported on in Chapter II of this Report, activities and meetings took place with government authorities, the media, organizations devoted to the defense of freedom of expression, and other bodies in civil society, for the purpose of gathering information and analyzing the status of freedom of expression in those countries.
 See Articles 40 and 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 18 of the Statute of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
 See Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Case “The Last Temptation of Christ” (Olmeda Bustos et al. v. Chile), Judgment of February 5, 2001, VIII Article 13: Freedom of Expression, para. 61C; Francisco Martorell v. Chile in 1996 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
 IACHR, Annual Report 1994, Report on the Compatibility of desacato Laws with the American Convention on Human Rights, OEA/Ser L/V/II.88, Doc. 9 Rev (1995).
 See Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.100 Doc.7 rev. 1, September 24, 1998, and Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia, OEA/Ser.L/II. 102 Doc.9 rev.1, February 26, 1996.
 Article 29(b) of the Rules of Procedure of the Commission states that: “In urgent cases, when it becomes necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons, the Commission may request that precautionary measures be taken to avoid irreparable damage in cases where the denounced facts are true.”
 In this regard, it is worth pointing out, for example, that on November 21, 1999, the Commission asked the Government of Peru to adopt precautionary measures in favor of journalist Guillermo Gonzáles Arica, which were processed in the framework of case number 12.085. Also, on September 17, 1999, the IACHR asked the Mexican government adopt precautionary measures to protect the life and integrity of journalist Jesús Barraza Zavala.
Declaration of Santiago, Second Summit of the Americas, April 18-19, 1998, Santiago, Chile, in “Official Documents of the Summit Process from Miami to Santiago,” Volume I, Office of SummitFollow-up, Organization of American States.
 Plan of Action, Second Summit of the Americas, April 18-19, 1998, Santiago, Chile, in “Official Documents of the Summit Process from Miami to Santiago,” Volume I, Office of SummitFollow-up, Organization of American States.
 Third Summit of the Americas, April 20-22, 2001, Quebec, Canada.
 See annex, Joint Declaration Challenges to Freedom of Expression in the New Century.