OAS Human Rights Commission Issues Press Freedom Declaration

Read the OAS Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression [English] | [Spanish]

New York, October 26, 2000 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ strong statement of support for press freedom in the Americas.

Made public on October 19, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression reaffirms that all nations in the Americas are bound by Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, regardless of borders and by any means of communication.” The document was drafted by Santiago A. Canton, the Commission’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

The Declaration lists thirteen principles that must be respected for freedom of expression to be exercised in practice. Notably, individuals must be given access to information held by the government; prior censorship must be prohibited by law; journalists must be allowed to keep their sources confidential; and attacks against journalists must be duly investigated by the state.

The Declaration also affirms that all criminal defamation laws violate freedom of expression guarantees, and notes that privacy laws “may not inhibit or restrict investigation and dissemination of information of public interest. The protection of a person’s reputation should only be guaranteed through civil sanctions” in the case of public officials, who are subject to “greater scrutiny by society.”

Most countries in Latin America retain laws that make it a criminal offense to “insult” public officials. The Declaration notes that such laws “restrict freedom of expression and right to information.”

“We applaud the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for its strong stance in support of freedom of expression,” noted CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “The day these principles are fully embraced throughout the hemisphere will be the day we will be able to say that expression in the Americas is truly free.”

The Inter-American Commission is one of the two entities of the Organization of American States that protect and promote human rights in the Americas (the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is the other). The Declaration is not a legally binding document, but represents the Commission’s interpretation of existing international law regarding freedom of expression.