Freedom of Expression

Press Release 05/09



Nº R05/09




Geneva – Washington, D.C., February 9, 2009  – The United Nations (UN) Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) of the Organization of American States (OAS), Catalina Botero, expressed their concern over recent statements made by high authority officials of the Colombian government against the journalist Hollman Morris.  


According to the information received, on February 2, 2009, Morris, as a journalist, attended the liberation of four hostages at a clandestine camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the department of Caquetá.  In addition to other statements made by high government authorities, on February 3, 2009, the President of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, stated in a news conference that Morris "shielded himself by his condition as a journalist to be a permissive accomplice to terrorism, […], one thing are those friends of terrorism who act as journalists, and another thing are journalists."  The head of state added that Morris "took advantage of his situation as a journalist, […] and he held a terrorist party at an alternate place from that where the soldier and the police were released last Sunday."  The UN and OAS rapporteurs do not have knowledge of any evidence that ties the journalist to criminal activities.  


After these declarations were made, Morris received threatening telephone calls.  In previous instances, Morris had to leave the country after having received threats against his life.  Since 2000, Morris has been a beneficiary of precautionary measures that were granted by the IAHRC.  


In recent years, the UN and OAS rapporteurs for freedom of expression have repeatedly expressed their concern over statements made by high authority officials of the Colombian government against human rights organizations and journalists who are critical of the government.  In 2004, as part of his official visit to evaluate the situation of freedom of expression in Colombia, the UN rapporteur urged the government to "take appropriate measures to prevent the use of stigmatization, especially on the part of its top officials, and the polarization of opinions, two elements that are poisoning the political debate and the exercise of pluralism" (E/CN.4/2005/64/Add.3). In 2005, the OAS rapporteur, taking note of statements made by high State officials that stigmatized human rights defenders and journalists who criticized the government, stated that "these types of excluding measures generate great mistrust  and a polarizing attitude that do not contribute to the creation of an environment that permits the development of freedom of expression" (OEA/Ser/L/V/II. Doc.51). As the IAHRC has pointed out, these types of comments not only increase the risks that journalists and human rights defenders face, "but […] could suggest that the acts of violence aimed at suppressing them in one way or another enjoy the acquiescence of the government" (OEA/Ser.L/V/II/122. Doc.5 rev.1). 


On this opportunity, La Rue and Botero reiterated the recommendations of their predecessors concerning the existence of declarations from the highest governmental authorities, "that increase the risk over the life and personal integrity of journalists and human rights defenders, and that generate an effect of intimidation and self-censorship over social communicators in Colombia." The rapporteurs noted that public officers, especially those who hold the highest positions in the State, have the duty to respect the dissemination of information and opinions, even when these may be contrary to their interests and views.  In this vein, they must seek the effective promotion of the pluralism and tolerance required by democratic societies.


Finally, the UN and OAS rapporteurs for freedom of expression reminded the State of Colombia its obligation to protect the human rights of all individuals, and in particular, of those exposed to situations of extraordinary risk, such as the journalists and human rights defenders that are threatened or that are beneficiaries of protective measures.  La Rue and Botero noted that, in such cases, "the State must not only diligently exercise its duty to guarantee, but must also prevent increasing the level of risk to which these people are exposed.  We remind the Colombian State once more that high government officials must abstain from making public statements that stigmatize journalists who are critical of the government and generate an environment of intimidation that gravely affects freedom of expression in the country. This obligation is particularly important in a context of polarization and internal armed conflict, such as Colombia’s".



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