Freedom of Expression

Press Release R 85/13


R 85/13





Washington, D.C., November 11, 2013 – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) commends the important legislative reform enacted by the Jamaican Parliament to decriminalize defamation offenses. The new law is a significant advance for the protection and strengthening of freedom of expression in the region, and underscores the importance of bringing national laws into line with the highest international standards on the issue. The Office of the Special Rapporteur congratulates the State for this decision and undertakes to disseminate it widely, within the framework of its mandate to promote freedom of expression in the Americas.


According to the information received, on November 5 the House of Representatives of the Jamaican Parliament passed the 2013 Defamation Bill, which eliminates the use of the criminal law in defamation matters. The bill was unanimously approved last July by the Senate, and will amend the defamation laws currently in effect in the country, which were enacted in 1851 and 1961. The amendment decriminalizes defamation offenses and establishes advanced criteria for the resolution of civil cases in accordance with the highest principles of international law on the subject. Thus, for example, it provides that the civil judge must consider principles such as exceptio veritatis, fair and accurate reports, innocent dissemination, and malice when dealing with media outlets that publish specially protected speech regarding matters of public interest. In this respect, the reform represents significant progress in the advancement of International Human Rights Law in civil proceedings pertaining to freedom of expression.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur views this legislative advance positively, and finds that it contributes decisively to the protection of freedom of expression and the promotion of more vigorous democratic debate throughout the Americas.


Laws criminalizing defamation have been repealed in many States of the region. Mexico repealed the federal norms that permitted individuals to be tried for criminal defamation, and a number of the states of the Mexican federation have done the same. In 2007, the National Assembly of Panama similarly decriminalized defamation in relation to criticism or opinions regarding official acts or omissions of high-ranking public servants. In April 2009, the Supreme Court of Brazil declared the Press Law incompatible with the Brazilian Constitution; the Law had imposed severe prison and pecuniary penalties on journalists for the crime of defamation. In June 2009, the Legislature of Uruguay eliminated from the Criminal Code the sanctions for the dissemination of information or opinions about public officials and matters of public interest, with the exception of those cases where the person allegedly affected could demonstrate the existence of "actual malice". In November 2009, the legislature of Argentina passed a reform to the Criminal Code doing away with prison terms for the crime of defamation, and decriminalizing speech about matters of public interest. Following this trend, in December of 2009, the Supreme Court of Costa Rica derogated a provision of the Press Law that established a prison penalty for crimes against honor. Similarly, in December of 2011 the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador approved a reform that substituted fines for prison sentences where crimes against honor are concerned and established greater protection for expressions dealing with public figures or matters of public interest. In July 2012, the Parliament of Grenada passed the Law Amending the 2012 Criminal Code, which repealed the offenses of negligent and intentional defamation. Similarly, in September 2012, Bolivia declared Article 162 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional, which provided for an aggravated prison sentence for the commission of criminal defamation against a public servant.


Finally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur calls upon the OAS Member States to follow these important advances and to bring their legal frameworks into line with the highest Inter-American standards on freedom of expression.


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.