Freedom of Expression


           1.         As the organs of the inter-American system have repeatedly stated, freedom of expression and access to information are vital for democracies in the Hemisphere, because they feed on free discussion of ideas and the widest possible dissemination of information and opinions.  The exercise of these rights is needed to ward off corruption and guarantee probity in public office, as well as citizen participation and the economic advancement of the population.

            2.         In June 2004, the General Assembly of the Organization of American States adopted the Declaration of Quito, which highlighted the fundamental role of the media in the fight against corruption and acknowledged that “access to public information supports government transparency and contributes to preventing impunity by permitting the detection of acts of corruption.  ”The States parties to the Declaration pledged to take additional steps to increase government transparency.  This Declaration is in line with the Plan of Action of the Third Summit of the Americas, which established 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.

            3.         Nevertheless, despite reiterated recognition of the need to respect and guarantee freedom of expression in the Hemisphere, that freedom cannot yet be called either full or untrammeled.  This report shows yet again that murdering and attacking journalists and the misuse of anti-defamation laws by government officials continued to be employed in 2004 as mechanisms for silencing criticism.

            4.         In recent years, there have been constant references to the benefits for a democratic society of access to public information.  This idea was supported, once again, by the OAS General Assembly, in resolution AG/RES. 2057 (XXXIV-O/04), which repeated the exhortation to Member States to introduce the laws or other provisions required to provide citizens with broad access to public information.[1]  In 2004, two states enacted access to public information laws and seven other states are reportedly analyzing similar bills.

            5.         Several countries in the Hemisphere still have “contempt” laws (i.e., laws penalizing offensive expressions directed at public officials). In 2004, three countries in the Hemisphere made great progress in this area, although not all of them fully implemented the parameters established in Principles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression. On the other hand, parallel to the progress referred to, on many occasions officials were seen to resort not to the notion of contempt (desacato) as such, but rather to laws against calumny, libel, or defamation to achieve the same end:  namely, to silence journalists publishing information on actions of public concern.

            6.         Thus the problems and violations that have worried the Rapporteurship are still widespread in the Americas: security issues of social communicators and human rights defenders, the existence and invoking of restrictive laws, lack of effective mechanisms for obtaining access to public information, concentration of ownership of the media, and the dearth of channels for the effective participation of socially excluded or vulnerable sectors.  Therefore, in order to safeguard and strengthen freedom of expression in the Americas, the Rapporteur’s Office reiterates the recommendations it 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, social communicators 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 contempt (desacato) as a crime, since they limit public debate, which is essential to the workings of democracy, and are not in keeping with the American Convention on Human Rights.

            e.         Work for amendment of laws against criminal defamation and calumny to prevent them being applied in the same ways as "contempt" (desacato) laws.

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

            g.         Promote policies and practices that effectively permit freedom of opinion 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 on, 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 that the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression be fully implemented. In this report, the Office of the Rapporteur would like to make a special appeal to states to consider the decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2004.[2]

            7.         The challenge facing the Office in the coming years is to build on the hard work and achievements of the past five.  The highly motivated staff of the Office and its interns are the principal, but by no means only, protagonists to take up this challenge.  It will require the political, institutional, and financial support of the States in the region.  The participation of journalists and members of civil society is also vital, as key players reporting on violations of the right to freedom of expression.  Thanks to a concerted effort by all these groups, the Americas will be able to move toward the consolidation of ample freedom of expression and access to information throughout the region.

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

[1] OAS, resolution AG/RES. 2057 (XXXIV-O/04), Access to Public Information: Strengthening Democracy, operative paragraph 3, which can be accessed at:[2] See Chapter VI.