Member states of the OAS pass resolution obligating them to fight violence against journalists in the region

The recent signing of a resolution by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) is now part of the working arguments used by the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur of the IACHR of the OAS, will now consider the resolution as it becomes part of the legal body with which governments can be urged to comply.

In that resolution, governments commit themselves to respect the right to freedom of expression, to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers in the region, and to share best practices in this area.

“It seems to me that having a resolution with clear terms, not only condemning violence against journalists, but also making commitments to work on prevention of this violence, of protection with special mechanisms, etc., and of seeking justice is an argument, somehow, of international law that the States have made themselves obligated to observe these types of standards,” Lanza told the Knight Center.

The resolution on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, signed on June 21, condemns all forms of aggression against media workers and recognizes the need for journalism to be exercised in an environment free of pressures by forcing States to ensure this.

The resolution states: “To reaffirm that journalism must be practiced free of threats, physical or psychological aggression, or other acts of intimidation and to urge states to implement comprehensive measures for prevention, protection, investigation and punishment of those responsible, as well as to put into action strategies to end impunity for crimes against journalists and share good practices, such as, inter alia, (i) creation of independent specialized prosecution units; (ii) adoption of specific investigation and prosecution protocols and methods, and (iii) provision of continuous training for members of the judiciary on the subject of freedom of expression and the safety of journalists on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.”

For Lanza, who has been in his post for three years and who has recently been re-elected by the IACHR, it is precisely what is established in the resolution to share good practices, as well as the creation of prosecutors or specialized units in this area, which will open dialogue with States in the company of the civil society with the purpose of making advances on the topic.

“We do not have the power to tell the Congresses or the public prosecutor what to do directly, but we can do it through the different faculties that the Commission and the Rapporteurship have,” said Lanza, referring to the official visits that he plans to carry out this year.

For example, in Guatemala and Paraguay, the Office of the Special Rapporteur hopes that progress will be made in the formalization of protection mechanisms for journalists, which have been discussed within each of these countries. In Mexico, where he will be accompanied by the United Nations Office of the Special Rapporteur, they will evaluate the mechanism already in place in the country "in light of inter-American standards and this resolution that was also approved."

For Lanza, the resolution also has a special significance since it recognizes the work of the Rapporteurship, which has turned 20, as the expert body to disseminate standards of freedom of expression in the region.

“It is nothing small that after 20 years [the countries] have renewed confidence and the mandate to work in this way, and the Rapporteurship will do this in different ways," said Lanza, who added that one of these mechanisms is through the promotion of cases before the Commission, and in turn, before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“All these standards are also very useful precisely to bring them to the Court so that in the resolution of specific cases of violations of the rights of journalists that have not been resolved and that have not achieved satisfaction at national level, they should also apply these commitments which the states themselves have acquired,” the Special Rapporteur said.

On August 22 and 23, the Inter-American Court will hold a public hearing in the case of Nelson Carvajal Carvajal et al. vs. Colombia. Carvajal Carvajal was director of Noticiero Momento Regional and the radio magazines Mirador de la Semana, Amanecer en el Campo y Tribuna Médica of radio station Radio Sur of RCN Radio, in the municipality of Pitalito, department of Huila, and was assassinated on April 16, 1998.

“What we want to establish is what are the obligations of the States in the field of research in these types of cases. This is the first in the inter-American system that deals with a journalist who was murdered, by non-state agents, that remains unpunished. So this is a concrete case that will be dealt with [as stated in the resolution],” he added.

Violence against journalists and achieving justice in these crimes is a "priority" issue for the Rapporteurship, according to Lanza. Currently, Mexico is one of his greatest concerns as it’s a country where "the escalation of violence" has left at least six journalists murdered, according to his office. Some of these murders have been of journalists “who were really iconic who had enormous importance influence for the right of information in their states,” Lanza said in reference to the cases of Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez.

However, the Special Rapporteur pointed out that there are also other types of attacks on freedom of expression in the region that concern them as is the case in Venezuela, "which deserves a separate chapter," since there is an "absolute deterioration" of this right. Or the case of Colombia, where despite the fact that no murders have been recorded, there is "an increase in the polarization of discourse [which] aims to silence journalists."

The United States deserves special attention since abandoning "its leadership in protecting freedom of expression and the role of journalism" has sent a message that is harmful for other countries in the region.

Although this resolution addresses issues other than violence against journalists, it is not the first to be approved by the OAS on this issue. In 1998, the organization approved the first resolution in the framework of the international conference “Crimes without punishment against journalists” organized by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) in 1997 in Guatemala, EFE reported.

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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