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IFEX members concerned over undermining of OAS Special Rapporteur

Members of the OAS participate in the OAS 42nd Assembly in June 2012
Members of the OAS participate in the OAS 42nd Assembly in June 2012

David Mercado/REUTERS

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a statement signed by over 30 IFEX members and initiated by the International Press Institute that is directed at member states of the OAS:

IFEX members concerned over efforts to undermine OAS Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression

We the undersigned members of IFEX express our serious concern at a set of proposals put forth by the government of Ecuador and due to be discussed on Friday, 8 March in Guayaquil, Ecuador that seek to reform the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), including the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression. The results of this discussion will be presented during the Extraordinary General Assembly of the OAS on 22 March in Washington.

In June 2011, the OAS Permanent Council authorised the creation of a Special Working Group, open to all 35 member states, with the aim of strengthening the IACHR. In December 2011, Ecuador won inclusion in the working group's report for three specific proposals that, while appearing to affect all eight rapporteurships equally, would disproportionately harm the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression.

Those three proposals are: (1) include all eight rapporteur reports under a single chapter of the IACHR annual report; (2) assign balanced financial resources among all rapporteurships; (3) introduce a code of conduct to govern IACHR rapporteurships.

This second point is perhaps the most damaging to the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression. Supporters of this measure argue that the Office's relatively large budget in comparison to the other seven rapporteurships is an indication that freedom of expression is being unfairly prioritised over other human rights issues.

However, unlike all seven other rapporteurships, the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression does not receive IACHR/OAS financing, but relies wholly on external donations. This arrangement was established at the Office's founding and is critical to maintaining its independence from the governments whose actions it monitors.

The Office's budgetary situation, therefore, is a reflection only of its ability to fundraise for the initiatives and activities it develops.

It is estimated that requiring the Office of the Special Rapporteur to reject or redistribute funding would result in a loss of 90% of its budget – all but bringing to a halt its indispensable work to protect press freedom and freedom of expression in the Americas.

We conclude that if these proposals are adopted, they will seriously weaken the Special Rapporteurship, whose work is critical to protecting and strengthening press freedom and freedom of expression in the Americas.

We call upon all OAS member states and, in particular, those state signatories to the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, to debate these proposals in an open and transparent manner that takes into account the views of civil society actors. We urge those same member states to consider any and all pertinent evidence and to reject any proposal contrary to the mission of protecting free expression in the Americas.

Signed,

International Press Institute
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Centre for Independent Journalism - Malaysia
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Committee to Protect Journalists
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Freedom House
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Globe International Center
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Inter American Press Association
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Rights Agenda
Media Watch
National Press Association
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Association "Journalists"
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee

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