IACHR refers case on Paraguay to the Inter-American Court

February 25, 2021

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Washington, D.C. - On February 13, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) referred the case of Santiago Leguizamón Zaván and family, regarding Paraguay, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The case refers to the death of Santiago Leguizamón on April 26, 1991, an important and well-known journalist and human rights defender from Pedro Juan Caballero, one of the most violent areas of Paraguay on the border with Brazil, for reasons that were allegedly linked to his profession, as well as to the failure of the State to adopt adequate and timely measures to protect him and prevent the occurrence of such events. It also deals with the lack of an effective and diligent investigation of these facts, consistent with applicable international standards and the impunity resulting from the facts.

In its Report on the Merits, the Commission emphasized that journalism represents one of the most important manifestations of freedom of expression and information. It also highlighted the transcendental role that journalism plays in keeping society informed, a necessary condition for strengthening public debate. For this reason, journalists and media workers may find themselves in a situation of vulnerability due to the role they play in society, which on many occasions places them in a situation of risk to their lives and personal integrity.

The Commission analyzed the violation of the right to life under the duty to protect and prevent, as a component of the obligation to guarantee, given that the murder of the journalist was allegedly carried out by non-state actors. The Commission considered that there were sufficient and consistent elements of conviction that allowed it to conclude that the murder of Santiago Leguizamón was linked to his journalistic work, in particular because he was investigating issues of high public interest in which important power groups were involved in a violent area in Paraguay, with the presence of organized crime. The Commission also considered that the journalist received a series of threats, including death threats, in response to the type of investigations he carried out and the articles he published, which placed him in a situation of real and immediate risk. The Commission concluded that the State was aware of the risk faced by Santiago Leguizamón and that, in spite of this, it did not conduct a risk analysis, did not provide timely information on the measures available, especially given the journalist's lack of confidence in the effectiveness of the measures that the State could adopt, and did not adopt timely and necessary protection measures for the journalist to prevent his death. Therefore, the IACHR concluded that the State of Paraguay is internationally responsible for the journalist's death because it failed to act in accordance with its duty of prevention and protection, and failed to guarantee his right to freedom of expression.

The Commission also concluded that the investigation and criminal proceedings did not meet the standards of due diligence and reasonable time, nor did they follow a logical line of investigation linked to the exercise of the victim's journalistic work that sought to identify and investigate all possible perpetrators and masterminds of the crime. The IACHR also highlighted the lack of due diligence and unjustified delays in the requests for international cooperation addressed to Brazil, due to the fact that the murder took place in a border area and several of the alleged perpetrators are allegedly in Brazil, with no possibility of being extradited. The Commission highlighted the importance of creating investigation protocols for crimes committed against freedom of expression that follow minimum criteria and establish the obligation to exhaust the logical lines of investigation related to such work. In this regard, the IACHR concluded that the State of Paraguay violated the right to judicial guarantees and judicial protection to the detriment of Santiago Leguizamón's family.

Finally, the IACHR declared the State responsible for the violation of the right to psychological and moral integrity, to the detriment of the journalist's family, for the suffering and affliction generated by the aforementioned violations.

Based on the foregoing considerations, the Commission concluded that the State of Paraguay is responsible for the violation of the rights to life and freedom of expression recognized in Articles 4(1) and 13 of the American Convention, in relation to the obligations established in its Article 1(1), to the detriment of Santiago Leguizamón. It also concluded that the State is responsible for the violation of the rights to humane treatment, to judicial guarantees and judicial protection, established in Articles 5(1), 8(1) and 25(1) of the Convention, in relation to the obligations established in its Article 1(1), to the detriment of his wife, daughter and children.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State:

1. Conduct a complete, impartial, effective and expeditious investigation to clarify the circumstances of the murder of journalist Santiago Leguizamón Zaván and to determine the corresponding responsibilities, both in terms of material and intellectual authorship.

2. Request the cooperation of the State of Brazil to exercise its jurisdiction over the alleged perpetrators of Brazilian citizenship of the murder of journalist Santiago Leguizamón Zaván who cannot be extradited to Paraguay, complying with the formal requirements that the State of Brazil may request and in accordance with the agreements in force between both countries.

3. If appropriate, collaborate with the State of Brazil so that a complete, impartial, effective investigation is carried out within a reasonable period of time in order to clarify the circumstances of the murder of journalist Santiago Leguizamón Zaván.

4. Adopt legislative, institutional and judicial measures aimed at reducing the exposure to risk of journalists and media workers who are at special risk due to the exercise of their journalistic work. In this sense, the State must develop adequate and expeditious programs and measures of institutional response that allow for the effective protection of journalists and media workers in situations of special risk due to the exercise of their profession, and, if applicable, their families, whether the threats come from State agents or are originated by private individuals. In particular, design and implement appropriate risk assessment protocols and protection programs for journalists and their families.

5. Strengthen institutional capacity to combat the pattern of impunity in cases of threats and deaths of journalists and media workers, through the development of investigation protocols that take into account the risks inherent in the work carried out by journalists, and in particular that lead to the punishment of those responsible and adequate reparation for the victims, in accordance with the standards and criteria established in the merits report.

6. Make full reparation for the human rights violations declared in the report on the merits, both in material and non-material aspects. The State shall adopt measures of economic compensation and satisfaction.

7. Design education and training programs that include the standards and criteria established in the merits report, in particular, those referring to the investigation of crimes against journalists, for the legal operators of the Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor's Office and the investigative police, in charge of investigating cases of violence against journalists.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 041/21