Freedom of Expression

Press Release R 128/14



R 128/14




Washington, D.C., November 2, 2014 – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) joins the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on its resolution of December 2013. In the context of the first celebration of this date, the Office of the Special Rapporteur urges the States of the Americas to adopt the necessary measures to eradicate impunity that characterizes those violations of the right to freedom of expression.


Impunity for crimes against journalists and people who exercise their right to freedom of expression has been an issue of great concern to this Office throughout its mandate. As the Inter-American Court has noted, impunity – understood as the total lack of investigation, prosecution, arrest, trial and conviction of those responsible – fosters the chronic repetition of human rights violations and the total defenselessness of victims and their relatives.


In 2014, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has reported thirteen journalists and media workers murdered in the hemisphere. Both the IACHR and the Inter-American Court have referred to the chilling effect of crimes against journalists on the willingness of other media professionals and of members of society in general to expose abuses of power and illicit acts of all kinds. As the Commission has observed, such chilling effect can only be avoided "by swift action on the part of the State to punish all perpetrators, as is its duty under international and domestic law".


Journalism is an arduous profession that implies the permanent involvement in activities related to the direct exercise of freedom of expression. The activity of journalists allows society to understand why events happen. To make available information on matters of public interest is the precondition for changing social and governmental practices that affect societies.


As established by the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to which the Office of the Special Rapporteur is fully committed, "[e]fforts to end impunity with respect to crimes against journalists must be associated with the defence and protection of human rights defenders, more generally. [P]romoting the safety of journalists and fighting impunity must not be constrained to after-the-fact action. Instead, it requires prevention mechanisms and actions to address some of the root causes of violence against journalists and of impunity."


To this end, the Office of the Special Rapporteur considers it necessary in the commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists to remind the States of the region of the importance of adopting a series of recommendations that provide the essential roadmap for ensuring a truly and effective right to freedom of expression presented in its report Violence against journalists and media workers: Inter-American standards and national practices on prevention, protection and prosecution of perpetrators, namely:


·                     Adopt adequate preventive mechanisms in order to avert violence against media workers, including the public condemnation of all acts of aggression, omitting any statement that may increase the risk for journalists; the respect for journalists’ right to keep their sources of information; the training of public officials, particularly police and security forces, and, if necessary, the adoption of operation manuals or guidelines on the respect for the right of freedom of expression, determining appropriate sanctions proportionate to the damage done; as well as the development of accurate statistics on violence against journalists.


·                     Carry out serious, impartial, and effective investigations into the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation committed against journalists and media workers, in accordance with this report. This entails the creation of specialized units and special investigative protocols, as well as the identification and exhaustion of all possible case theories related to the professional work of the victim.


·                     Bring to trial, before impartial and independent tribunals, all those responsible for the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation based on the exercise of freedom of expression, remove legal obstacles to the investigation and punishment of these crimes, and provide the victims and their family members ample participation during the investigation and prosecution, as well as adequate compensation, and eliminate gender barriers that obstruct access to justice.


·                     Adopt specific, adequate and effective measures to prevent attacks and other forms of violence perpetrated against women journalists, and prosecute and punish those responsible. States must adopt effective measures to encourage reporting of cases of violence against women journalists and combat the impunity that characterizes those crimes.


·                     Adopt the measures necessary to guarantee the security of those who are at special risk by virtue of exercising their right to freedom of expression, whether the threats come from state agents or private individuals. Measures or protection programs must be suitable and sufficient for its purpose.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.