Journalists call Caribbean countries to oppose reforms that could weaken OAS' Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression

By Alejandro Martínez

The Association of Caribbean Media Workers asked Caricom -- an organization that promotes cooperation among Caribbean nations -- to discourage its 15 members from participating in a meeting of the Organization of American States on March 8 where reforms that could weaken the OAS’ Inter-American Human Rights System (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression will be discussed.

ACM joined other human rights and press freedom organizations that are arguing that the meeting, which would take place before the OAS’ General Assembly on March 22, “is not based on a conventional legal standard” and “will circumvent established OAS procedure on the matter and lead to a lack of transparency,” said ACM president Wesley Gibbings in a letter addressed to Caricom secretary general Irwin La Rocque.

Gibbings said ACM was “particularly concerned” that the proposed reforms “will have the impact of significantly weakening the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression by compromising its independence and weakening its resource base.”

“The transparency of the process and adherence to procedural legal standards guaranteeing the discussion, are vital to establish the legitimacy of this and any reform process," Gibbings’ letter to La Rocque said. "It is for these reasons that we respectfully request Your Excellency to encourage Caricom member states to dismiss as inadmissible the proposal made by the Government of Ecuador."

The meeting was proposed in 2012, when a group of countries led by Ecuador and Venezuela called for reforms to IACHR that would affect the body's mission and the powers of its special rapporteurs. While the proposals claimed to strengthen transparency and the legal rigor of the inter-American human rights system, several organizations and representatives from civil society have argued that the reforms would undermine the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which has repeatedly criticized the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela for their restrictions on freedom of expression in their countries.

The reforms would reduce the rapporteur's funding and prohibit it from seeking external funding. Additionally, the reforms propose a code of conduct that would impede the publication of its press releases and recommend its annual report be brief and refer to the entire region, not individual countries.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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