Libertad de Expresión

1 - Introduction


1.                  The twenty-first Century ushered in a period of progress and challenges to the strengthening of democratic progress in the Americas.  The hemispheric objective of deepening constitutional forms of participatory democracy has had as its focus addressing problems such as social justice, sustainable development and full respect for individual human rights.  Within this context, the right to freedom of expression plays a central role in the consolidation of democracy, as it affects the right of the individual to seek, receive and impart information and opinions as well as the collective right to participation through the free exchange of ideas and information.


2.                  The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression would like to highlight that in October of 2000, in recognition of the urgent need to develop principles to strengthen democracy in the hemisphere, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights approved the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression developed by the Office of the Special Rapporteur.  This document was prepared as a fundamental reference tool to guide the development of laws on freedom of expression and as a guide to the interpretation of Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.  The Special Rapporteur believes that the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression will serve as a model in the hemisphere for the defense, promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression.


3.                  The Special Rapporteur notes that in the year 2000, various States have recognized the importance of full respect for freedom of expression and information.  In this context, various States have requested recommendations from the Office of the Special Rapporteur, expressing their intention to introduce legislative reforms that expand the protections of this right or to amend existing legislation restrictive of the full exercise of freedom of expression.  Nonetheless, in some cases there is a perceptible slowness of the approval process as well as a lack of leadership, initiative and will to amend the laws that restrict freedom of expression.


4.                  In addition, the Special Rapporteur continues to be seriously concerned about the assassination of journalists registered in the hemisphere during the last year.  This report makes reference to the assassination of seven journalists due to their professional activities.  The Office of the Special Rapporteur received information about other cases of assassinations of journalists, which are currently being investigated to determine if these murders were consequences of their journalistic activities.  At the same time, the Special Rapporteur received information regarding more than 170 cases of violations of freedom of expression during the year 2000. 


5.                  The Special Rapporteur views with concern the utilization of the judiciary to place limits on freedom of expression and on the informative role of journalists and the media.  During 2000, the Special Rapporteur received approximately 60 accounts of legal or judicial actions against journalists and the media.  The Special Rapporteur has prepared a study of laws affecting freedom of expression, confirming that in various States, criminal contempt laws (desacato) remain in place and are used to silence criticism of public officials.  In response to a recommendation of the IACHR, the Office of the Special Rapporteur will carry out an annual investigation of the movement to repeal contempt laws in the hemisphere. Equally important to ensure greater protection for freedom of expression is the review of laws governing criminal slander and libel.  During the past year, the Special Rapporteur received numerous reports of cases involving the use of criminal slander and libel laws to silence the press.


Finally, given the objective of various States to find strategies to combat the high incidence of corruption afflicting democracies in the Americas, the Special Rapporteur is pressing for the promulgation of laws promoting access to information.  Such laws are likely to promote greater control of governmental activities as well as to guarantee ample protection for freedom of expression, which could contribute significantly to increasing transparency in government.  The media plays an essential role in democratic systems due to its capacity to investigate, inform the citizenry through public scrutiny and promote public participation.  The right to free access to information is structured as a way to strengthen the fundamental principles of transparency, openness and public scrutiny of the government’s activities in a representative democracy.  Having in place the procedures that guarantee this right is one of the most effective mechanisms for combating corruption.