Freedom of Expression

Press release R245/22

SRFOE records the highest number of murders of journalists in the Americas since 1998, and calls on the States of the region to promote comprehensive policies for prevention, protection and prosecution of justice

November 2, 2022

Washington D.C. - On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the IACHR Special Rapporteur’s Office for Freedom of Expression condemns the increase in violence against journalists and calls on the States of the region to promote comprehensive prevention, protection, and prosecution policies to address this phenomenon, considering the central role of the press in democratic societies.

In 2022, at least 37 journalists, belonging to 10 of the 35 OAS Member States monitored by the Rapporteur’s Office, have been murdered in the Americas for reasons that could be linked to their profession, according to reports from international and local organizations that work in defense of press freedom. This is the highest number recorded by SRFOE in the last 24 years, since the publication of its first annual report in 1998. In this regard, the Rapporteur’s Office warns about this escalation of violence against journalists, calls for reflection and awareness of the serious implications that this has, and reiterates that the murder of journalists and communicators is the most extreme form of censorship and cannot be tolerated in democratic societies.

As the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held, journalism represents one of the most important manifestations of freedom of expression. In contexts of democratic erosion such as those faced by much of the region today, the press is not only a crucial means of keeping citizens informed on matters of public relevance and oxygenating public debate, but also plays a role in defending and promoting freedom of expression and human rights. Because of their central place in societies, the Commission and the Court have understood that acts of violence against journalists not only affect the right to life and personal integrity, but also the right to freedom of expression in its individual and collective facet, since they prevent citizens from receiving relevant information of public interest. Both the American Convention on Human Rights, the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Inter-American Democratic Charter recognize these rights as basic elements for life in democracy.

The SRFOE recognizes that, in some countries of the region, the phenomenon of violence against journalists is largely associated with the increase of violent organized crime groups, which often have greater incidence in areas far from large urban centers, or in border cities. As the report "Zonas silenciadas: Regiones de alta peligrosidad para ejercer la libertad de expresión" (Silenced Areas: Highly dangerous regions for freedom of expression) points out, in those regions where criminal organizations have a strong presence, journalists are caught in the crossfire and, on many occasions, in order to protect their lives or physical integrity, and even to remain in the profession, they must align themselves with the interests of some power, which means ceasing to report and remaining silent. Despite the efforts of many States in the hemisphere to curb this escalation of violence against journalists and media workers, the Office of the Special Rapporteur continues to document high numbers of murders year after year and notes that significant challenges persist - some of them structural in nature - to ensure that there is effective justice and adequate reparations for victims.

On the Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, the Special Rapporteur’s Office honors the courage and commitment to the profession of journalists murdered in the exercise of their profession; and reaffirms the importance and urgency for States to make every effort to create an environment free of violence for the press, as well as the necessary conditions for them to carry out their work freely, independently and safely. As inter-American jurisprudence has repeatedly held, impunity -understood as the failure to investigate, prosecute, capture, try and convict- fosters the chronic repetition of human rights violations and the total defenselessness of the victims and their families; and, in cases of crimes against journalists, it favors the silencing and generalized self-censorship of the press.

Likewise, SRFOE considers it crucial that, in the actions undertaken to prevent, protect, investigate, prosecute and punish crimes against the press, the States address the specific needs and risks suffered by women journalists due to their gender. As has been previously highlighted by the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur’s Office, the social constructions of gender and the historical discrimination against women determine that the patterns of violence that persist in the region against the press have particularities and/or a differentiated impact on women journalists and media workers.

Finally, this Office reiterates that there is nothing more permissive to the repetition of violence against the press than the absence of a forceful institutional reaction and nothing more encouraging and reassuring for the perpetrators of violence than impunity for crimes against journalists.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to stimulate the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.