UNESCO and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights join forces to strengthen freedom of expression in the region

In search of improving efforts to protect freedoms of expression and of the press, and to strengthen the security of journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNESCO and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Oct. 2.

Signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Oct. 2 (Photo: Christelle ALIX/ UNESCO).

The agreement is part of UNESCO’s alliances with different entities to contribute to the development of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, according to a statement from Unesco.

This Plan of Action “aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers around the world,” according to the statement. To achieve this, one of the initiatives led by UNESCO is the training of justice operators on “the international and regional legal frameworks that govern freedom of expression and freedom of the press,” it added.

“Over the past six years UNESCO has successfully trained thousands of judicial actors in Latin America thanks to our partnerships in the region, including with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights,” said Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, according to the statement.

The trainings include seminars, training workshops and massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) on issues of freedom of expression.

These courses carried out in alliance with the Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and with the support of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas have reached some 12,000 judicial operators in the region. The course "International legal framework for freedom of expression, access to public information and protection of journalists" has been offered five times at the Ibero-American level since 2014.

“[These MOOCs have] provided crucial training to help defend free speech and end impunity for crimes against journalists,” the UNESCO statement said.

For Judge Eduardo Ferrer Mac-Gregor Poisot, President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, freedom of expression has been present in the jurisprudence established by the Inter-American Court because they understand its importance, according to what he said in an interview with UNESCO. This jurisprudence includes issues of access to public information, transparency and the safety of journalists and impunity in their crimes.

“We are concerned about the situation in the region on this issue, about the killings of journalists and that is why the Court is signing this agreement. We have been working with UNESCO for a time, we are formalizing it,” the judge said in the interview.

For Guilherme Canela, Communication and Information Advisor of the UNESCO Office in Montevideo, a “concrete example of the tools that will be generated” as part of the recent agreement is the document 'Strengthening of the Rule of Law and Human Rights to achieve Peaceful, Fair, Inclusive and Transparent Societies,’ which was released on Oct. 3.

The document has to do with the role that justice administration systems have in fulfilling Objective 16 of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations that precisely seeks to “promote fair, peaceful and inclusive societies.” A topic that includes the safety of journalists and access to public information.

“[This is] an input for judicial operators throughout Latin America on the challenges for the implementation of the 2030 agenda, particularly SDG16 [agenda item 16],” Canela told the Knight Center. “Issues such as transparency, the fight against corruption, access to information were debated by the five main institutions that unite the justice systems of the region, which have identified public policies and good practices to achieve the goals established by the member states of the United Nations in 2015.”

To produce the document, almost 20 authorities of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Conference of Ministers of Justice of the Ibero-American Countries (Comjib), the Ibero-American Association of Public Prosecutors (AIAMP), the Ibero-American Judicial Summit and the Inter-American Association of Ombudsmen (AIDEF), with the help of UNESCO, met for two days.

The signing of the recent Memorandum of Understanding took place in Paris, France and was made by Azoulay and Ferrer Mac-Gregor.