IACHR report on corruption and human rights asks governments in the region to protect journalists

Given the wave of corruption that has plagued the region in recent years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) asked the countries of the American continent to protect journalists and freedom of expression.

CIDH report

Journalists and people working in the media make an important contribution to democracy and the transparency of public management and are in a historic situation of vulnerability and discrimination, the Commission said in its recent report.

In the report released at the end of 2019, Corruption and Human Rights, the IACHR evaluates the impact of corruption on democracy, the rule of law and the exercise of human rights in the Americas.

In the second chapter, the report addresses the impact of corruption on press freedom, specifically regarding freedom of expression, access to information, protection of journalistic and communications sources, and the diversity and plurality of the media.

The organization mentioned the case of Héctor Félix Miranda versus Mexico, in which it said authorities had not carried out the relevant investigations regarding the murder of the journalist (1999), who investigated cases of corruption. It also pointed out the case of Víctor Manuel Oropeza versus Mexico, who also reported acts of corruption in his reports and was murdered in 1999. The Commission recommended that the Mexican country send a message of zero tolerance to those who commit attacks against freedom of expression.

Another case mentioned in the report is the murder of journalist Aristeu Guida da Silva in Brazil (2016), in which the Commission establishes a relationship between the journalist's complaints and the subsequent crime against him, holding the State responsible for violating Articles 4.1 and 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

The report also notes that the crimes of defamation, injuriacalumnias and desacato are the most used in the region by those who seek to sue journalists because of their investigations. The use of the Criminal Code in these cases "is the most restrictive and severe" that Latin American countries can use against journalists, except for exceptions in which hate and violence is incited or false news is spread deliberately, the report said.

In that sense, both the Commission and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression have indicated the application of criminal figures drafted in an ambiguous manner whose objective is to inhibit public debate and journalistic investigations. Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, Peru and Guatemala continue to use these criminal figures in cases against journalists, the report said.

Especially in Venezuela, the Rapporteurship found that the application of the Criminal Code restricts, in that sense, the free dissemination of ideas and opinions, worsening with the creation of the “law against hate,” enacted at the end of 2017.

Nicaragua is another country that the Commission mentions with special attention in that regard, due to censorship and blocking of websites – the report mentioned the blocking of Confidencial’s site on April 23 – or of social network profiles, among other things, that have affected journalism in the last two years.

According to the report, the IACHR found that in Nicaragua, the State has directly and indirectly censored independent media, both through state agents and through violent actions of civilians sympathetic to the government. The murder of journalists is one of the most extreme forms of censorship, the Commission said, mentioning the murder of Nicaraguan journalist Ángel Gahona who was killed while broadcasting one of the social protests in April 2018 on Facebook Live.

The Commission highlighted as "essential" for the exercise of journalism that the confidentiality of journalistic sources be protected. In this regard, one of the cases mentioned was that of Peruvian journalists Gustavo Gorriti and Rosana Cueva, who revealed a deep crisis in the justice system from the leak of telephone conversations between judges and politicians. One of the first responses from judicial authorities was to ask Gorriti and Cueva for the journalistic sources they used for their reports.

The document also highlighted the growing interest on the part of States in using technologies that increase their surveillance capacity. As an example of this, the report mentions the spyware program “Pegasus,” produced by an Israeli company, which was used in 2017 by the Mexican government to access the content of phones and devices of journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and international investigators looking into the mass disappearance of students in Iguala in 2014.

The plurality of media is also an important part of freedom of expression, the document notes. In that sense, the report mentions as an example of the case of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV) against the Venezuelan State, when in 2007 the government decided not to renew its concession in an act of censorship. RCTV was a traditional outlet critical of the government of then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

For the Commission, freedom of expression is the “cornerstone” of a democratic society and therefore establishes three fundamental principles related to this right: “The exercise of freedom of expression in harmony with other rights; the duties of journalists and the media; and the plurality of media or information.”

"The double dimension of freedom of expression also implies the obligation to avoid the constitution of private or public monopolies aimed at shaping public opinion according to a single point of view," Commission's report said.

In one of its recommendations, the Commission proposes protection mechanisms for journalists, rights defenders and civil society persons who report acts of corruption in situations of structural violence in the countries of the American continent. Risk assessments and protection mechanisms should never require disclosure of sources or material used in journalistic investigations, the report said.

This report, carried out from resolution 1/18 issued by the Commission in March 2018, seeks to analyze the relationship between human rights and the acts of corruption that plague the region to suggest the development and implementation of public policies that strengthen institutions and encourage accountability, the organization said in a statement. Corruption promotes impunity, inequality and undermines the rule of law, it said.

The IACHR said in that resolution that the victims of corruption must be part and be considered in the analysis, design and application of mechanisms and policies to prevent, denounce and end corruption in their coauntries.