Libertad de Expresión

1 - Introduction


The right of freedom of expression is a fundamental guarantee for ensuring the rule of law and democratic institutions. Article IV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man stipulates that: “Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.”[1]  Similarly, Article 13 of the American Convention[2] states that: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression.  This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.”[3]


 Similarly, the importance of freedom of expression in the hemisphere was recognized and enshrined in the Declaration of Chapultepec, which was adopted in March 1994 and has been signed by numerous heads of state and government. Principle No. 1 of this Declaration states that: No people or society can be free without freedom of expression and of the press. The exercise of this freedom is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people.”[4]


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recognizes that freedom of expression covers a wide range of activities that affect all individuals. This report refers only to some of the wide range of issues affecting freedom of expression. The Special Rapporteur will continue to issue reports dealing with other areas related to this basic right that are not addressed herein.


The democratic system now pervasive in the hemisphere has helped secure greater respect for the right to freedom of expression than never before. Notwithstanding these important accomplishments, we ought not to delude ourselves into thinking that there are no violations of freedom of expression or that whatever violations do exist are inconsequential.  The Office of the Rapporteur has been functioning for almost two years and, in that time, has encountered many cases in which freedom of expression and information has been abridged. They include almost absolute censorship, murders, assaults, threats against journalists, clearly restrictive laws, persecutions conducted through judicial channels, and so on.  The democracy achieved in recent years should inspire us to find answers to these problems rather than hide behind its façade and deny them.  Greater freedom of expression serves to make democracy deeper and stronger.  Although approximately two decades have passed since the return to democratic government, freedom of expression and information is still limited in a number of States in this hemisphere.


This report states that many domestic laws need to be amended to bring them in line with international norms for the protection of freedom of expression and information.  Among the laws in need of change are those on expression offensive to public officials (desacato laws) and those on libel and slander. The right to access to official information and the right to habeas data must also be guaranteed. Without laws clearly in line with international standards for freedom of expression, this right, so basic to democracy, will always be in jeopardy.


Similarly, one of the most controversial issues with regard to freedom of expression in recent years concerns the concept of truthful information.  In its Advisory Opinion on compulsory membership in associations for the practice of journalism, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights stated that: “One cannot legitimately rely on the right of a society to be honestly informed in order to put in place a regime of prior censorship for the alleged purpose of eliminating information deemed to be untrue in the eyes of the censor.”[5]


Violence against journalists continues throughout the hemisphere.  Murders, assaults and threats are a frequent occurrence, yet too many States still refrain from taking the measures needed to bring the responsible to justice.


The lack of equality encountered by women in exercising their right to freedom of expression and information is also a major source of concern for the Office of the Rapporteur.  Bringing about greater freedom of expression and information for women will have a positive effect on securing respect for other basic rights.


Another of the issues included in this report is freedom of expression and the Internet. Mention is made of the need to promote widespread access to this technology within the legal framework of protection established by Article 13 of the American Convention.


The purpose of this report is to bring some of the major problems in the hemisphere to public attention.  The idea is to spark public debate and to inform about the need for amending domestic laws.  All this will help lead the changes needed to make democracies now prevalent throughout the hemisphere stronger, by engaging every sector of society in the exercise of free expression and opinion.







[1] American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, adopted by the Ninth International Conference of American States,  Bogotá, Colombia, 1948, Chapter One, Article IV.

[2] See complete text of Article 13 of the American Convention in Appendix 1.

[3] Pursuant to Article 1 of the Statute of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights takes “human rights” as meaning:

a. The rights set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, in relation to the States Parties thereto;

b. The rights set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, in relation to the other member states.

Statute of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Resolution No. 447 (IX-0/79), adopted by the Ninth Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly, October 31, 1979, Article 1, paragraphs 1 and 2.

[4] Declaration of Chapultepec, adopted by the Inter-American Press Association at the Hemisphere Conference on Free Speech in Mexico City on March 11, 1994. The full text of the Declaration can be found in Appendix 5. The Declaration  has been ratified by the heads of state and government of Argentina, Bolivia, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and the USA.

[5]Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism (Arts. 13 and 29 of the American Convention on Human Rights), Advisory Opinion OC-5/85.  Series A No. 5, para. 33.