Freedom of Expression

Press Release 164/07

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Presents its 2006 Annual Report

Washington, D.C., April 9, 2007 – In its evaluation of the situation of freedom of expression in the Americas in 2006, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS drew attention to the increase in murders of communicators in the region in the course of the year and the persisting impunity in which such murders, as well as attacks and threats directed at journalists, remain. On March 29 last, the IACHR presented its annual report to the Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS), the Volume III of which contains the Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

The report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur records 19 murders in 2006 for reasons that could be connected with the exercise of freedom of expression and mentions that this figure reverts the downward trend for killings of this type registered in the hemisphere over the previous three years. The report notes that the majority of these crimes go unpunished, which propitiates further murders and leads to self-censorship by communicators. In addition, the report registers more than 200 cases of assault and threats against communicators and adds that these incidents are frequently not investigated. The annual report also highlights other restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression that arose in 2006, such as criminal actions brought by government officials against journalists for desacato (contempt), defamation, slander and libel, discriminatory allocation of government advertising, and refusal by public officials to release information in the possession of the state on request.

“Historically speaking, the right to freedom of expression has gained ground in the Americas, especially as a result of the transitions to democracy. However, the obstructions of freedom of expression seen in 2006 are genuinely a cause for concern,” said Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Ignacio J. Álvarez. “We urge the states to do everything in their power as soon as possible to investigate and ensure justice in all cases of murder, attacks and threats, and to design public policies for protection and strengthening of the right to freedom of expression.”

In addition to a detailed evaluation of the situation of the right to freedom of expression in the hemisphere, the report of the Office of the Special Rapporteur includes comparative studies of the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Committee with regard to freedom of expression. It also contains a description of the main activities pursued by the Office of the Special Rapporteur in 2006, including the creation and implementation of a daily monitoring system and of its quarterly reports on the situation of freedom of expression in the region, the presentation of six draft reports on merits to the IACHR, visits to promote the right to freedom of expression, training workshops for journalists and communicators, and participation in forums and seminars.

The annual report includes general conclusions on the situation of freedom of expression in the region, on the basis whereof it offers a number of recommendations to the member states of the Organization with a view to improving the conditions necessary for the full exercise of freedom of expression in the region. These conclusions and recommendations are attached as an annex to this press release. The complete annual report is available in English at




A.         Conclusions

 1. This Annual Report reveals a situation of considerable concern with respect to the state of freedom of expression in the Americas.

 2. The assassination of 19 journalists throughout the region in 2006 and the dozens of threats and acts of physical aggression against journalists related to the exercise of their profession have become even more serious because of impunity. Furthermore, the continuous use of criminal trial proceedings against journalists for desacato (contempt) and defamation demonstrate, in the great majority of the cases, both State intolerance of criticism and the use of these to frustrate investigations of acts of corruption. 

 3. In addition to the more direct forms of violations mentioned above, there exists an increasing trend among the States to resort to more subtle methods to coerce the press, that include discriminatory allocation of official publicity, discrimination in the access to public information, removal of public and private media outlets as a result of governmental pressure and administrative inspections lead by governmental bodies with the objective of punishing media because of the opinions they express.

 4. The latter situations, moreover, are given within a general context characterized by factors of a more structural nature. An example of this is the concentration of ownership of media outlets in various countries in the region, which frequently implicates that the public receives only one perspective of matters that concern them. This does not contribute to the effective vigilance of the freedom of expression and democracy, which entails pluralism and diversity. The Office of the Special Rapporteur stresses that the concentration and monopoly of ownership and control of media outlets, whether public or private, negatively affects pluralism which is a fundamental component of the freedom of expression.

 5. Another factor that affects freedom of expression is the lack of appropriate legislation on community broadcasting in many countries in the region. The Office of the Special Rapporteur has indicated that community broadcasting “serve as outlets for expression that generally offer the poor better opportunities for access and participation”. In effect, the lack of adequate legislation regarding community radio broadcasting contributes to the present existence of radios that act on the margin of law, which cause, among others, interferences in the spectrum, judicial insecurity, and repressive, violent acts throughout the region.

 6. Likewise, lack of access to information also constitutes a structural situation that affects the right to freedom of expression which creates a culture of secrecy and lack of transparency in a number of States in the region.

 B.         Recommendations to the Member States of the OAS

7.  Taking into account the existing situation in reference to the freedom of thought and expression in the region, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recommends to the Member States of the OAS the following actions so as to keep moving forward with this cause:

 1. Grant full attention to the situation of violence against journalists in the region and the impunity that has been shown in these cases. The states should take effective measures sanctioning the direct perpetrators and the masterminds of these crimes.

 2. Eliminate the crime of desacato (contempt) and modify other connected norms from Criminal Codes and related laws, in order to prevent the application of criminal trial proceedings to protect honor and reputation when information of public interest is published.

 3. Abstain from using state power to punish or reward media outlets and journalists with respect to their political opinions, with methods such as the discriminatory allocation of official advertising, administrative proceedings, pressure or any other indirect means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.

 4. Abstain from adopting actions affecting pluralism, and adopt legislative and other measures to guarantee its effectiveness.

 5. Enact laws regarding community radio so that part of the spectrum is designated for community radio stations and the assignment of these frequencies takes into account democratic criteria that guarantee equality of opportunities for all individuals to access them, in conformity with Principle 12 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.

 6. In reference to access to information, to continue enacting laws in line with international standards and implementing practices as part of transparency and anti corruption policies.

 7. Bring their domestic laws into line with the standards established in the American Convention on Human Rights, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.

 8. The Office of the Special Rapporteur thanks all the states that have worked with it this year, as well as the IACHR, its Executive Secretariat and the Secretary General of the OAS for their constant support.