Freedom of Expression

Press Release 62/02


The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS), Eduardo A. Bertoni, has expressed concern regarding the murders, threatening, and harassment of journalists, which are creating adverse conditions for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression in Haiti.  Bertoni paid a visit to Haiti during which he received information regarding occurrences of this kind and on the status of investigations to determine who killed journalists Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor. 

            The Special Rapporteur’s visit formed part of an IACHR mission, which visited Haiti on August 26-29, 2002 in response to an invitation from the Government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.  It was the Special Rapporteur’s second visit to Haiti this year.  On both occasions, he was able to gather information regarding the status of freedom of expression in that country.  His agenda included meetings with government authorities, judges, journalists, press associations, and human rights organizations.  The information collected will be processed in due course as material for a report.  

The murder of journalists in Haiti, along with a large number of complaints regarding harassment and threats against journalists, the media, and other social communicators, have created an unfavorable atmosphere for freedom of expression.  “It is disturbing that those whose freedom of expression is curtailed cannot always rely on effective judicial protection to detect those responsible, put a stop to intimidation, and ensure reparation for the damage done,” said Bertoni. 

            The Rapporteur received information on the status of inquiries into the murder of radio reporter Jean Léopold Dominique in April 2000, an investigation that has been fraught with irregularities, including threats and intimidation of judges and witnesses that have led to several judges resigning, including Judge Claudy Gassant.  The Rapporteur points out once again that behavior of this kind constitutes an indirect form of curtailing freedom of expression, since it creates a terrifying environment for other social communicators, who are frightened to denounce further attacks.  To discover the current state of that investigation, Bertoni met with the murdered journalist’s widow, Michele Montas, and the new judge in charge of the case, Bernard Saint Vil.  The latter was asked to intensify efforts to ensure progress in the investigation into who killed and who ordered the murder of Dominique.

           During his visit, the Special Rapporteur was also briefed on the inquiries into the murder of the news editor for Radio Eco 2000, Brignol Lindor, in December 2001.  In the Rapporteur’s opinion, the slow pace of the investigation is a cause for concern.  Bertoni voiced these concerns at a meeting with the judge in charge of the investigation, Fritzner Duclaire. The Rapporteur also requested the judge to take the necessary steps to protect witnesses and other people involved in the investigation. 

            The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression observes that there has been an increase in the number of acts of harassment perpetrated by armed groups who operate outside the law against journalists, the media, and other people wishing to express their views freely, in particularly students demonstrations. Accordingly, the Rapporteur recommends that the Haitian Government guarantee the right of freedom of expression for all individuals.   The right to freedom of expression is essential for the development and strengthening of democracy and for the unfettered exercise of human rights.  “Freedom of expression means not only being able to express ideas and opinions, but also the ability to do so without suffering arbitrary consequences or acts of intimidation,” the Rapporteur declared.   

            Another important issue affecting freedom of expression in Haiti is the existence of legislation that contravenes the American Convention on Human Rights, such as the laws on contempt of public authority and the criminalization of offensive language referring to government officials.  In this regard, the Rapporteur recommends that the Haitian State alter its laws in accordance with Article 13 of the Convention.  It is also worth recalling Principle 10 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, which reads: (…) “The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions in those cases in which the person offended is a public official, a public person or a private person who has voluntarily become involved in matters of public interest. (…)”  

The Special Rapporteur is aware that the complex political and social circumstances in Haiti today directly affect the exercise of freedom of expression.  He is also aware that such circumstances are not the product of immediate and short-term factors but rather a direct consequence of the years of oppression and violence that dominated the lives of Haitians in the past and a sequel to the numerous political crises and military coups d’état that have occurred in Haiti since the start of the process of transition and reconstruction of democratic institutions in 1987.  Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur recalls that the Haitian State is obliged to observe and guarantee the rights recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which it is a party, one of which is the right to freedom of expression.  

            The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression urges the Government of Haiti to ensure full exercise of the right of freedom of expression for all inhabitants of the country, without their being exposed to reprisals.  Finally, he recommends that steps be taken to ensure the autonomy, independence, and impartiality of the judiciary, to enable it to fulfill its role as protector of freedom of expression in accordance with the standards of international law.  

            The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression will continue its close monitoring of the status of freedom of expression in Haiti.  The Rapporteur would like to thank the Government of Haiti for the facilities it provided for this visit.  Finally, the Rapporteur wishes to extend his congratulations and support for all those reporters who perform the invaluable task of informing society.   

The Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression is a functionally autonomous full time office with its own budget, established by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights within the Commission’s sphere of competence and operating under the same legal framework.  The Office of the Rapporteur originated in the Second Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Americas, held in Santiago, Chile, in April 1998. 

Eduardo A. Bertoni 
IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression 
Washington, D.C.
September 3, 2002