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Hemispheric conference urges legal reforms to combat impunity in crimes against journalists

(IAPA/IFEX) - The following is an IAPA press release:


MIAMI, Florida (July 23) - The need to enact legal reforms so as to punish attacks on freedom of expression more effectively and prevent the guilty from literally getting away with murder in crimes against journalists, as well as to encourage the holding of forums and seminars among judges and journalists to bring about greater mutual awareness, were among the conclusions of the Hemisphere Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity held recently in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Attended by 20 justices from the highest courts in the Americas and more than 200 other delegates, including jurists, news media executives, legislators, experts with international organizations, lawyers and journalist, the July 18-20 conference was organized by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) with the sponsorship of the Supreme Court of the Dominican Republic.

IAPA President Rafael Molina, editor of the Santo Domingo newspaper El Día, in his opening remarks declared, "When action is taken to eliminate a judge or a journalist it is not just a matter of doing away with a life but an attempt by the use of terror to obstruct legal process and prevent bringing to light actions that many would prefer remain hidden from view."

Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic, at a welcoming reception for conference delegates held at the National Palace, said, "In the society to which we all aspire the press and the legal system play a leading role, as both contribute to the maintenance of order and peace as the basic element of civilized co-existence."

Dominican Republic Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Subero declared, "The major enemy that the press and judges have is intolerance, because it brings with it, in the case of a journalist, self-censorship and, for a judge, the loss of balance at the time of making a ruling." He added, "Intolerance provokes acts of violence that, if not punished, give rise to an unacceptable impunity which serves as a favorable environment for them to be repeated."

At the conclusion of the Hemisphere Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity the participants issued a Declaration of Principles, whose full text is the following:

That the killings, threats, and pressures on journalists and those who administer justice constitute a direct attack on society and democracy;

That Articles 3, 5, 8, 10, and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establish the right to life, to personal integrity, to effective judicial protection, to due process, to freedom of expression, and to freedom of the press;

That the aforementioned declaration specifically states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers";

That the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the American Convention on Human Rights are highly consistent with the aforementioned statements;

That the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2000, states in Principle 9, "The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation";

That Principle 4 of the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec states, "Freedom of expression and of the press are severely limited by murder, terrorism, kidnapping, intimidation, the unjust imprisonment of journalists, the destruction of facilities, violence of any kind and impunity for perpetrators. Such acts must be investigated promptly and punished harshly";

That the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated that effective judicial protection "constitutes one of the basic pillars not only of the American Convention on Human Rights, but also of the rule of law itself in a democratic society, according to the Convention" (Claude Reyes v. Chile, 2006, paragraph 131), and that freedom of expression and of the press is "a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests" (Advisory Opinion OC‑5/85, "Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism," paragraph 70);

That the Main Declaration of the Ibero-American Summit of Supreme Court Chief Justices, held in Cancún, Mexico, in 2002, states, "The rule of law in modern times is characterized by the legal assurance, certainty, confidence, and genuine possibility that each individual is granted that to which he or she is entitled by law";

That the Declaration of the Ibero-American Summit of Supreme Court Chief Justices and the Declaration of Judiciary Councils, held in Copán/San Salvador, in 2004, states: "A judicial system and a press that are independent and impartial, and whose actions are governed by acceptable levels of professionalism and ethics, are essential to strengthening a democratic society";

That one of the essential duties of the judicial branch, as established in the constitutions of Latin America, is to protect each individual's rights from the excesses and omissions of the other branches of government, as well as from those who violate the law, and to uphold their constitutional rights in the process;

1. To emphatically repudiate violence when perpetrated in an attempt to prevent the practice of freedom of the press and freedom of speech and to obstruct justice.

2. On the importance of taking the measures necessary to investigate and punish attacks on freedom of speech and crimes against journalists and officials of the justice system in order to break the vicious cycle of impunity.

3. On the importance of encouraging all branches of governments, of each country and at every level, to apply the international and inter-American instruments that provide conceptual and normative tools to hand down sanctions with greater effectiveness against those who attack freedom of speech and obstruct justice, without jeopardizing judicial independence.

4. To create opportunities to join with specialists and members of society to discuss the possibility of pursuing legal reforms so that those guilty of attacking freedom of speech may be duly prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced; specifically, when applicable, to recommend the implementation of new model of criminal procedure.

5. To promote national and regional forums and seminars for members of the media and the judiciary in order to create opportunities for them to find common grounds, seek mutual understanding, and engage in a dialogue on a culture of lawfulness and the value of freedom of speech, and that public education campaigns on these issues be pursued.

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