Freedom of Expression

8 - Chapter VII - Final Considerations and Recommendations

1.                  Freedom of expression and access to information are fundamental to the democracies of the Hemisphere.  Through the exercise of freedom of expression and access to information, society can avoid and prevent improper behavior by public officials.


2.                  The importance of freedom of expression in our Hemisphere has been reaffirmed during the year 2003.  The Declaration of Santiago on Democracy and Public Trust, unanimously approved by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States of the OAS, recognizes that democracy is strengthened by the full respect for freedom of expression, access to information and free dissemination of ideas.  It further recognizes that all sectors of society, including the media, through the information they provide to citizens, can contribute to an environment of tolerance for all opinions, promote a culture of peace, and strengthen democratic governance.  This declaration follows the plans of action adopted during the Summits of the Americas, and particularly, during the Third Summit of the Americas held in 2001. 


            3.         The Plan of Action of the Third Summit of the Americasestablished the need for States to ensure that journalists and opinion leaders are free to investigate and publish without fear of reprisals, harassment or retaliatory actions, including the misuse of anti-defamation laws.


4.         However, notwithstanding the constant reference to the need to respect and guarantee freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, the exercise of this freedom cannot be characterized as full and free of obstacles.  As this report clearly reveals, acts of aggression and reprisals for the exercise of this freedom, including murders and the misuse of anti-defamation laws to silence opposition, have continued to take place during 2003.


5.         Several States are currently considering the possibility of adopting laws on access to information.  However, in contrast to the situation in 2002, none of the States passed laws on this subject this year.  It is important to note that, during its last period of ordinary sessions, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) approved Resolution AG/RES. 1932 (XXXIII-0/03), which establishes that "states are obliged to respect and promote respect for everyone’s access to public information and to promote the adoption of any necessary legislative or other types of provisions to ensure its recognition and effective application."


6.         Most countries of the Hemisphere still maintain "desacato" (insult or contempt of public officials) laws.  In spite of repeated recommendations, only one State has repealed these laws during 2003.  Many countries of the Hemisphere have demonstrated a clear intention to intimidate journalists by initiating judicial proceedings against them.  Many public officials or government leaders use criminal libel, slander, and defamation laws in the same manner as desacato laws, with the intention of silencing journalists who have produced articles that criticize the government on matters of public interest.


7.         The problematic issues mentioned in this report–the safety of journalists, the existence and enforcement of restrictive legislation, the dearth of effective procedures for obtaining access to information, and the lack of effective channels for participation by socially-excluded or vulnerable sectors–have been the prime concern of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression since its inception.  Thus, with a view to safeguarding and strengthening freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reiterates the recommendations made in previous reports:


a.         Conduct serious, impartial, and effective investigations into murders, kidnappings, threats, and acts of intimidation against journalists and other media personnel.


b.         Bring those responsible for the murder of, or acts of aggression against, reporters and other media personnel to trial by independent and impartial courts.


c.         Publicly condemn such acts in order to prevent actions that might encourage these crimes.


d.         Promote the repeal of laws defining desacato as a crime, since they limit public debate, which is essential to the functioning of democracy, and are not in keeping with the American Convention on Human Rights.


e.         Promote the amendment of criminal defamation laws to prevent them being used in the same way as the desacato laws.


f.          Enact laws allowing access to information and complementary rules governing their implementation in accordance with international standards.


g.         Promote policies and practices that effectively permit freedom of expression and access to information, along with equal participation by all segments of society in such a way that their needs, views, and interests are incorporated in the design of and decisions about public policies.


h. Finally, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the member States bring their domestic law into line with the parameters established in the American Convention on Human Rights and that Article IV of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression be fully implemented.


            8.         The Rapporteur thanks all the States that have worked with him this year, as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its Executive Secretariat for their constant support.  Lastly, the Rapporteur thanks all those independent journalists and other media personnel who, day after day, fulfill their important function of keeping society informed.