Freedom of Expression

Press Release R65-10


No. R65/10





Washington D.C., June 24, 2010 - On several occasions the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Office of the Special Rapporteur have reminded the States of their obligation to create the necessary conditions for the public, plural, open and uninhibited deliberation of all matters of general interest. To accomplish this, the States must establish reinforced guarantees for the protection of critical or dissident speech.


In the Case of Manuel Cepeda Vargas v. Colombia, notified on June 21, 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights recalled this state duty and emphasized the State’s obligation to facilitate a democratic playing field that fully respects the voices of critics and opponents. As the Inter-American Court held in that case, "opposition voices are essential to a democratic society."


Manuel Cepeda Vargas was a prominent journalist, political leader and member of the Colombian congress. The Inter-American Court found that it had been proven that in 1994 State agents extrajudicially executed Cepeda in retaliation for his political activism. The Court further established that some public servants considered Manuel Cepeda, and the movement to which he belonged, to be "domestic enemies" and issued stigmatizing statements that considerably increased the risks those individuals faced. In the opinion of the Inter-American Court, the State conduct at issue was inconsistent with the duty of public servants to guarantee Senator Cepeda’s rights, including his right to freedom of thought and expression.


In this case, the Court stated that "States must guarantee the effective participation of individuals, groups, organizations and political parties of the opposition in a democratic society, through appropriate standards and practices that enable their real and effective access to different deliberative forums on equal terms." Indeed, as the inter-American case law has already stated, freedom of expression protects not only the dissemination of ideas and information that is favorable or inoffensive to the government but also ideas and information that offend, shock, disturb, or are unpleasant or troubling to the State or a sector of the population. This is required by the principles of pluralism and tolerance inherent in the democracies of the Americas.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights underscores the important considerations of the Inter-American Court in the Case of Manuel Cepeda Vargas, and asks the States to take all measures necessary to guarantee—in accordance with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights—the free and uninhibited existence of critical and dissident voices in the democratic societies of the hemisphere.


The judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Case of Manuel Cepeda Vargas v. Colombia is available at:


For more information on the Office of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: