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OAS adopts proposals that could weaken role of free expression special rapporteur

New proposals adopted by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States could be used to threaten the authority of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero
New proposals adopted by the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States could be used to threaten the authority of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Catalina Botero

The Organization of American States (OAS) Permanent Council adopted the proposals of a working group that could be used to threaten the authority of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, report IFEX's Latin American and Caribbean group (IFEX-ALC), the International Press Institute (IPI) and other IFEX members.

As IFEX reported last month, those recommendations had been designed and pushed for by Ecuador, whose government has repeatedly criticised the efforts of the special rapporteur for interfering in internal affairs.

Ecuador's permanent representative to the OAS, María Isabel Salvador, stressed that her country wanted only to ensure that all eight Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) rapporteurships were being treated equally. "All rights deserve the same attention and all rapporteurships should have the same resources," she told news reporters, according to IPI.

Unlike the other rapporteurs, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression publishes an extensive stand-alone annual report and benefits from external funding. If fully implemented, Ecuador's recommendations would end both of those practices, forcing the inclusion of the annual report into a larger report about the region generally and requiring balanced funding among the rapporteurs. The third recommendation calls for a code of conduct to govern the rapporteur.

IFEX-ALC, an alliance of 16 IFEX members based in the region, along with international rights groups such as IPI, ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), have spoken out in support of the rapporteur, Catalina Botero, and the office she leads.

According to the Knight Center, more than 60 NGOs and civil society representatives have alleged that the changes will damage the rapporteur's effectiveness and autonomy.

While there is still concern, IFEX-ALC members and the Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Information noted that there was not unanimous support for Ecuador's recommendations on the Permanent Council. They say that "an overwhelming majority" said the recommendations "should be adopted only if they would lead to a genuine strengthening of the system in place to protect human rights and the work of the special rapporteur."

Countries like Costa Rica, Uruguay and Panama strongly supported the existing role of the special rapporteur and rejected any significant reforms that could weaken its mandate, they said.

But Mexico and Colombia had ambiguous responses. The Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP) criticised the Colombian representative for characterising the reforms as "positive" and for not defending the role played by the special rapporteur in guaranteeing freedom of expression in the region.

For the moment, the recommendations are non-binding. According to the Knight Center, final approval depends on the votes of the 34 member nations at the next OAS General Assembly meeting, which will be held in Bolivia in June 2012.

In the meantime, IFEX-ALC members and the Regional Alliance have written to OAS members and encouraged them to "carefully evaluate the recommendations…, only adopting those that do not negatively affect the system itself, or potential victims or users of the Inter-American Human Rights System."

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
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  • Free expression special rapporteur under attack

    At the Washington-based Organization of American States, Ecuador has put forward proposals that in effect could severely weaken or kill the OAS Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which would be "a step backwards for free expression in the region," says IFEX member in Colombia the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP). IFEX's Latin American and Caribbean group (IFEX-ALC), an alliance of 16 IFEX members based in the region, has protested the move.



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