By Carolina Peredo
Uruguayan journalist and lawyer Edison Lanza was confirmed before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) as the new Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, replacing Colombian Catalina Botero. Lanza began on October 6 a three-year term, taking over the Special Rapporteur's Office at the Organization of American States (OAS).
As the new Rapporteur, Lanza will be tasked with addressing issues related to freedom of thought and expression across the American continent. Last July, the IACHR announced the selection of Lanza in a press release, a decision that they say was made “based on the professional qualities and experience of the candidate, taking into special consideration his technical expertise, leadership, and ability to work effectively with States, civil society organizations, and all other actors of the Inter-American System of Human Rights.”
Speaking to IFEX, a website that monitors freedom of expression, Lanza was asked about the biggest challenges he would face in his new role. “[One is] to have an influence in those places where there are problems related to freedom of expression. Also, making the Rapporteurship a space for dialogue and understanding. We have to be able to debate issues that concern freedom of expression. We are here to help, not to label, but it takes two to tango.”
In the same interview, Lanza diagnosed the state of free speech in the Americas, describing the situation as “heterogeneous.” “There are more countries that have decriminalized crimes of expression or that have passed laws on access to information. However, it is still the disturbing obsession of some governments to take control of public spaces and assume a critical attitude towards subversive acts,” the new Rapporteur said.
Lanza listed violence and impunity as priorities in the region, adding that “it is necessary to democratize the media and important to promote greater diversity and pluralism, but without undermining the freedom of expression and of journalism. There is also the issue of access to public information.”
Prior to assuming the role of Special Rapporteur, Lanza worked as a journalist, as a consultant for international organizations on issues related to freedom of expression and the right to information, as an adviser to the Union of Uruguayan Journalists, and as a university lecturer.
He introduced a number of landmark cases on the right to freedom of expression to the Inter-American System of Human Rights and headed several non-governmental organizations that defend the right to freedom of expression, many of which he created himself. Lanza has also served as a member of several national bodies that monitor compliance with laws relating to freedom of expression and access to public information.
Outgoing Rapporteur Catalina Botero commented in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo that “[Edison Lanza] will be a great Rapporteur. He has remarkable qualities, experience in the field, is both a lawyer and a journalist, and has litigated before the Inter-American System.”
Lanza was chosen from six finalists after a long process that included observations from OAS Member States and representatives of civil society.
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.