Freedom of Expression

Press Release 59/02


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the OAS, Dr. Eduardo A. Bertoni, condemns the murder of journalist Efraín Varela Noriega in Colombia, and the harassment of two of the journalist’s colleagues.  He also calls on the Colombian government to open an investigation into these events and to seek ways to provide greater protection for all the journalists in that country.            

According to information received, Efraín Varela Noriega, the director of the radio station Meridiano 70, was murdered in the city of Arauca, Colombia, on June 28, 2002.  The 50-year old journalist was intercepted on a road by members of the United Colombian Self-Defense (AUC), who, after forcing him to get out of his car, which bore the insignia of Meridiano 70, shot him repeatedly.  Varela Noriega directed two radio programs on political issues; he was also a member of the Departmental Peace Council, and a recognized human rights activist in the area.  The journalist had been threatened previously for his critical stance against the activities of the armed groups of dissidents.  Hours after his murder, Josédil Gutiérrez, a colleague of Varela Noriega on Meridiano 70, received two telephone threats on the radio, in which he was told to leave the city.  Another radio broadcaster, Luis Eduardo Alfonso, had to leave the city after learning that his name was on a list of persons threatened with death by the same dissident group.  

The assassination of journalists is the most brutal form of restricting freedom of expression.  As established in Principle 9 of the IACHR Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, the murder of and threats to social communicators violate the fundamental rights of individuals.  The American Convention on Human Rights, to which Colombia is a party, says that states have the duty to prevent, investigate, and punish any violation of the rights recognized in the Convention.  In the case of journalists, the IACHR has maintained that the failure to conduct a full investigation into the murder of a journalist and to provide for criminal punishment of the material and intellectual authors is especially serious, because of the impact it has on society.  Impunity in the case of these crimes not only has the effect of intimidating other journalists, but it also sows fear among ordinary citizens, as it makes them afraid to report abuses and illicit acts of all kinds. 

Eduardo A. Bertoni, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, calls on the Colombian government to immediately undertake a serious and effective investigation into this murder and the other events referred to.  At the same time, he urges the Colombian authorities to find ways to provide effective protection to all social communicators, so that they can perform their valuable work of informing the public.  In this regard, he would recall the commitment made by Heads of State and Government during the Third Summit of the Americas, to the effect that:  “... States should ensure that journalists and public opinion leaders are free to investigate and publish, without fear of reprisal...”.  

Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
July 2, 2002 
Washington, D.C.