New guide joins MOOC as part of iniative to train judicial workers in Latin America about freedom of expression standards

The deterioration of freedom of expression in Latin America is clear. In 2016 alone, 36 journalists were killed in that region for reasons that may be related to their work, according to the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

This is compounded by other violations in the region ranging from espionage of journalists and closing of web pages to criminal sentences for defamation and desacato, restrictions or limitations on public information for reasons of national security, among others.

“One way to end these abuses is to ensure that justice is implemented. For that, it is vital that international and inter-American legal frameworks are well known and, above all, applied,” said Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, in a release from UNESCO.

It is for this reason and with the purpose of "guarantee[ing] the right to freedom of expression and end[ing] the impunity of attacks against journalists in Latin America," that on July 27 the Center for International Media Assisance (CIMA) published the Spanish-language guide "International Standards for Freedom of Expression: A Basic Guide for Judicial Workers in Latin America," with the support of the Office of the Special Rapporteur and UNESCO, and written by journalist Silvia Chocarro.

“This guide is such an important tool for workers in the judicial sector,” Lanza added.

The document originated from the course "International Legal Framework on Freedom of Expression, Access to Public Information and Protection of Journalists" created by the Office of the Special Rapporteur and UNESCO in collaboration with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. This course, which has been offered five times since 2014, was one of the first efforts to train judicial operators in this area.

“We started in the year 2014 with an online course for Mexican judges done in collaboration with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. It was so successful that we expanded the course to the entire region. Currently, more than 5,000 people have participated and several Latin American law schools have vowed to include freedom of expression in their curricula,” said Lidia Brito, the director of UNESCO’s office in Montevideo, according to a release.

But for the organizations, there was something missing, according to the release: a guide that would complement these courses and that was an introduction for the judicial workers.

“The conviction that the existence of an independent judiciary and free, plural and independent media is essential for the protection and promotion of all human rights, has joined CIMA, UNESCO and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR in strengthening two fundamental pillars of contemporary democracies: justice and freedom of expression,” the introduction to the guide reads.

In the development of the guide, one of the major efforts was to translate in a "concise and clear way more than 70 years of international jurisprudence" on freedom of expression and thus establish a "roadmap" that would enable judicial workers to make decisions that are in line with these standards.

In this sense, the document includes topics including violence against journalists, new challenges for freedom of expression brought on by the internet and access to public information, but also points out the legitimate limitations to this right.

Chocarro, author of the guide, expects that "in just 40 pages, people, mainly from the legal field or defenders of freedom of expression, have the basic information they need to understand the right to freedom of expression and its international standards," she told the Knight Center. The guide, she explained, not only includes the basic concepts but also references to international and regional texts, cases, practical resources, case law databases, websites, expert organizations, and so on.
However, she believes that journalists and other media workers can approach this document to "get a basic idea of ​​basic issues pertaining to the right to freedom of expression" as well as possible sources and bibliographical references.
Among the chapters in the document, Chocarro highlights the one related to the limitations on freedom of expression, an issue in which there is "some confusion" at the international level. "If there is something that has to be clear, it is that the limits are the exception," she said.
"I hope it serves to increase the guarantees of the right to freedom of expression. And, hopefully, it will save lives, those of journalists who put their lives in danger to find the truth. How much more impunity in crimes against journalists, more attacks. If this guide serves to help reduce impunity and, consequently, these attacks and crimes, we will have achieved our objective and more," she said.

The document is available for free at this link.

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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