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Call for open debate on reforms to Inter-American System

Catalina Botero, the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression
Catalina Botero, the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

(IFEX-ALC) - The member organisations of IFEX-ALC*, based on their commitment to defend democracy and human rights in 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, call on their respective governments and relevant OAS bodies to fulfill their obligation to review possible reforms to the Inter-American System in an open and public manner.

The IFEX-ALC members have reminded the authorities in their respective countries, in a personal and direct manner via letters and campaign that the public has the right to participate in discussions about any proposed reforms. This collective and simultaneous action has been undertaken in the last few days after the government of Ecuador planned a meeting to a bring together American Convention on Human Rights signatory States in order to formulate a joint proposal by a group of countries for reforms to be presented to the OAS Permanent Council and General Assembly.

According to civil society organisations, this meeting, carried out on 8 March 2013 in Quito, fails to comply with the Inter-American System's legal norms, as well as formal commitments that have been made to discuss reforms in an open and public manner.

The IFEX-ALC member organisations note that work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is delineated by the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. IFEX-ALC is of the opinion that any attempt to strengthen the Inter-American System should protect the autonomy and independence of its various bodies, including the Commission, and that this work should be undertaken by the Commission itself.

Within this context, IFEX-ALC highlights the fact that the meeting in Quito lacks a legal foundation and could be problematic for the process toward eventual reforms that has been taking place for more than two years. Discussing the reforms outside of their proper place (i.e. the Permanent Council and General Assembly) represents a breach of agreements already signed between the States, as well as a failure to honour the commitment to public analysis and dialogue involving all parties involved.

In the opinion of IFEX-ALC, the Inter-American System represents an achievement of "regional civility and democratic spirit" and, as such, any reform must be for the greater interest of society as a whole. Therefore, transparency and adherence to the legal procedural norms that must underpin the discussions are of vital importance for the legitimacy of the reform process.

IFEX-ALC is particularly concerned over the apparent attempt to take away important powers of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

At the most recent General Assembly, held last year in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, harshly criticised the Commission, and the Office of the Special Rapporteur in particular. This suggests that he will continue to push forward with reforms that have already been proposed together with other countries.

If the reforms are implemented, the Office of the Special Rapporteur would stop publishing its annual freedom of expression report, which incorporates information from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, its funding would be equalised with other OAS bodies, thus diminishing its budget, and a "code of conduct" has been proposed that would increase State control over the functioning of the various rapporteurships.

In support of their concerns, the IFEX-ALC members emphasise the "notable progress" on freedom of expression and information issues that has been made in the region "thanks to the constant and rigorous" work of the Office of the Rapporteur, which has contributed to a consolidation of democracy in the region. The rapporteur has pushed for decriminalisation of defamation, especially the crime of "insult" (desacato) that has protected public officials. The risks faced by the press, especially with respect to organised crime, and the need to create mechanisms for protecting journalists have also been highlighted. In recent years, the rapporteur has also advocated for processes to fight impunity in cases of crimes against journalists and has brought to light mechanisms of indirect censorship, such as the arbitrary granting of state advertising and radio and television licences.

*IFEX-ALC is a network of organisations committed to defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression. It is a regional alliance of IFEX members in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism, ABRAJI) – Brazil
Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC) – Latin America and the Caribbean
Asociación Nacional de la Prensa (National Press Association, ANP) – Bolivia
Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (Association for Civil Rights, ADC) - Argentina
Association of Caribbean Media Workers (ACM) – Caribbean
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (National Centre of Social Communication, CENCOS) – México
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (Centre for Informative Reports on Guatemala, CERIGUA) – Guatemala
Comité por la Libre Expresión (Committee for Freedom of Expression, C-Libre) – Honduras
Foro de Periodismo Argentino (Argentine Journalism Forum, FOPEA) – Argentina
Fundación Andina para la Observación y el Estudio de Medios (Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media, Fundamedios) – Ecuador
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Press Freedom Foundation, FLIP) – Colombia
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Press and Society Institute, IPYS) – Perú
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela (Press and Society Institute-Venezuela) – Venezuela
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión (Latin American Observatory for Freedom of Expression, OLA) – Perú
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (Paraguayan Journalists Union, SPP) – Paraguay

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