Freedom of Expression

Joint Statement



United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Protection

and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


Joint declaration on violence against journalists and media workers in the context of protests



September 13, 2013 - The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Catalina Botero, have observed with concern the manner in which some State authorities have reacted to protests in the Americas in recent months. The protesters have by and large demonstrated peacefully, although acts of violence have been reported. In this context, the Special Rapporteurs have been informed of dozens of arrests, threats, and assaults committed against journalists, media workers, protesters, and users of social networks who were reporting on the demonstrations.


The Special Rapporteurs note that in the context of demonstrations and situations of social unrest, the work of journalists and media workers, as well as the free flow of information through alternative media such as the social networks, is essential to keeping the public informed of the events. At the same time, it plays an important role in reporting on the conduct of the State and of law enforcement authorities toward the protesters, preventing the disproportionate use of force and the abuse of authority.


Attacks against journalists who cover these events violate both the individual aspect of freedom of expression—insofar as they prevent journalists from exercising their right to seek and disseminate information, and creates a chilling effect—as well as its collective aspect —in that they deprive society of the right to know the information that journalists obtain. The Offices of the Special Rapporteurs have thus acknowledged that, given the importance of the work done by journalists who cover these events, the State must afford them the highest degree of protection in order for them to perform their duties. This obligation is not limited to granting specific protective measures to journalists; it also includes the duty to create the necessary conditions to mitigate the risks of practicing their profession in such situations.


The State has the duty to ensure that journalists and media workers reporting on public demonstrations are not arrested, threatened, assaulted, or limited in any manner in their rights as a result of practicing their profession. Their work materials and tools must not be destroyed or confiscated by the authorities. As affirmed in the statement concerning the arrests and assaults against journalists at the Occupy protests in the United States, the protection of freedom of expression requires authorities to ensure the necessary conditions for journalists to be able to cover noteworthy events of interest to the public, such as the social protests mentioned. The disproportionate restrictions on access to the scene of the events, the arrests, and the criminal charges resulting from the performance of professional duties by reporters violate the right to freedom of expression. It is incumbent upon the authorities to reestablish the affected guarantees and ensure full respect for the right to freedom of expression.


The Special Rapporteurs note that in order to do their jobs effectively, journalists must be perceived as independent observers and not as potential witnesses for the courts. Otherwise, the safety of both journalists and their sources could be threatened. In situations of social unrest, the perception that journalists can be forced to testify not only limits their ability to access sources of information but also increases their risk of being targeted by violent groups. In addition, the authorities must not require journalists to demonstrate that statements from eyewitnesses are accurate or to prove before a judge the veracity of complaints reported.


The State must not prohibit or criminalize live broadcasts of events, and must abstain from imposing measures that regulate or limit the free circulation of information via the Internet, and other communications platforms. Moreover, the authorities must not stigmatize or stereotype demonstrators and their demands. They must refrain from making generalizations based on isolated events or the conduct of particular groups. In this respect, the authorities must bear in mind that public servants are meant to be guarantors of the fundamental rights of individuals, and therefore, their statements cannot interfere directly or indirectly in the rights of those who aim to contribute to public debate through the expression and dissemination of information. This duty is particularly accentuated in situations of social unrest, disturbances of public order, or social or political polarization, precisely because of the set of risks they can entail for certain individuals.


In this regard, the Special Rapporteurs maintain that it is essential for authorities to vigorously condemn assaults against journalists and media workers and to act with due diligence and swiftness to establish the facts and punish those responsible. The Special Rapporteurs also note that properly educating State security forces on the role of the press in a democratic society is an important step in preventing violence against journalists and media workers in situations of social unrest.


The rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, guaranteed by the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, are fundamental, and guaranteeing them is a vital condition to the existence and proper functioning of a democratic society. A State may impose reasonable limitations on demonstrations for purposes of ensuring that they are conducted peacefully, or to disperse those that turn violent, provided that such limits are governed by the principles of legality, necessity, and proportionality. In addition, the breaking-up of a demonstration must be warranted by the duty to protect individuals, and authorities must use the measures that are safest and least harmful to the demonstrators. The use of force at public demonstrations must be an exception, used under strictly necessary circumstances consistent with internationally recognized principles.