Freedom of Expression

Press Release 76/03


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS, Eduardo A. Bertoni, condemns the murder of Colombian journalists Guillermo Bravo Vega and Jaime Rengifo Rebelo, and urges Colombian authorities to take all the necessary measures to ensure that the perpetrators are punished. Likewise, he urges the Government to reinforce to the maximum the mechanisms to grant effective protection to all the Colombian journalists that receive constant threats for performing their valuable work of informing the public. 

According to the information received, on the night of April 28, 2003, journalist Guillermo Bravo Vega was shot at his home, in the city of Neiva, department of Huila. He died on the way to the hospital. Bravo was known for his work in the economic and political fields, and he had received many journalism awards. At the time, he was working independently in the local TV station in the show “Hechos y Cifras ”, and he was columnist for the newspaper “Tribuna Sur”.  

Also, on April 29, 2003, journalist Jaime Rengifo Rebelo was murdered in the municipality of Maicao, department of Guajira. Rengifo Rebelo was the director of newspaper “El Guajiro ” and of the radio program “Periodistas en Acción”, broadcasted by the independent radio station “Olímpica”. He was shot to death when he was leaving the hotel where he resided. According to the information received a man who had stayed the night before at the same hotel shot Rengifo Rebelo several times to death, and then ran away. 

The murdered journalists investigated and reported about alleged cases of corruption, and both had been threatened in the past. The Special Rapporteur remarked: “The similarity of both circumstances, and the fact that they were investigative reporters, leads me to stress some of the conclusions of a recent seminar that took place in Bogotá, about “Impunity in cases of threats to journalists”: that threats must never be underestimated, and that it is imperative that they be reported to authorities when they occur.” 

The State, through decisive punishment of those who threaten or murder journalists, contributes to the prevention of the intimidating effect that these actions produce, sending a strong and direct message to society: there will be no tolerance for those who violate the right to freedom of expression. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has stated that failure to conduct a thorough investigation into the assassination of a journalist and failure to punish the material and intellectual authors of to the crime are particularly grave because of the impact on society.  Impunity in the case of such crimes not only intimidates other journalists, but all other citizens as well, since it makes them afraid to denounce injustice, wrongs, and illicit behavior of any kind.    

The Special Rapporteur recalls that the murder of journalists is the most brutal means of restricting freedom of expression. As stated in Principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, “The murder… of and or threats to social communicators violate the fundamental rights of individuals.” The American Convention on Human Rights, to which Colombia is a party, establishes that states have the duty to prevent, investigate, and sanction any violation of the human rights recognized in the Convention.  

For these reasons, the Special Rapporteur urges the Colombian state to investigate these murders immediately, noting the commitment made by the Heads of State and Government at the Third Summit of the Americas, whereby the governments ensured “that journalists and opinion leaders shall be free to investigate and publish without fear of reprisals....   

Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
May 1, 2003
Washington, D.C.