Freedom of Expression

Press Release R31/13







Washington DC, May 3, 2013 – On the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), recognizes the valuable work of the women and men who practice journalism in our region and calls on States to adopt effective mechanisms for prevention and protection in response to circumstances that could threaten the life, safety or personal integrity of communicators.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur urges authorities to eradicate the causes of violence against journalists and media workers and to take all necessary measures to end impunity in these crimes.


The inter-American human rights system has recognized that freedom of expression is an essential instrument for the functioning of democratic systems, the denouncement of arbitrariness, and the struggle for the rights of persons. In particular, the Inter-American system has indicated that the media is key to forming the opinion of a public that is informed and aware of its rights, to performing oversight of public administration, and for demanding state officials be held responsible. Without a plural, vigorous, free and independent media, abuse of power remains hidden and authoritarian systems take root. It is not a coincidence that the first measure taken by authoritarian regimes everywhere in the world has historically been to block the exercise of a critical and independent media and prohibit all acts of dissidence.


The Americas have moved forward significantly in the effective enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. However, this Office of the Special Rapporteur has called attention to a significant increase in recent years in violence against journalists, associated with the exercise of their profession, and the worrying state of impunity of those crimes. The result is that currently, in some areas of our region, those who exercise journalism face extreme risk.


Principle 9 of the Inter-American Commission Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression states that "The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."


As established by the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to which the Office of the Special Rapporteur is fully committed, "Efforts to end impunity with respect to crimes against journalists must be associated with the defence and protection of human rights defenders, more generally. [P]romoting the safety of journalists and fighting impunity must not be constrained to after-thefact action. Instead, it requires prevention mechanisms and actions to address some of the root causes of violence against journalists and of impunity."


For this reason, and on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the World Press Freedom Day, this Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression recommends that States:


  • Adopt appropriate mechanisms to prevent violence against members of the media, including the public condemnation of all acts of violence;


  • Adopt effective protection measures to ensure the safety of persons exposed to special risks because of the exercise of their right to freedom of expression;


  • Conduct serious, impartial, and effective investigations into acts of violence committed against journalists and media workers; prosecute and convict all perpetrators of such acts, and provide appropriate reparations to victims and their relatives;


  • Repeal the offense of desacato and encourage the amendment of criminal defamation laws to do away with the use of criminal proceedings to protect honor and reputation when information in the public interest and regarding public servants or candidates running for public office is disseminated; and


  • Refrain from making public statements or using state media to wage public campaigns that can incite violence against individuals because of their opinions. In particular, they should avoid making statements that can stigmatize journalists, media outlets, and human rights defenders.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.