Inter-American Court of Human Rights grants relief to local paper

New York, October 3, 2001—In an unprecedented decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued provisional measures granting a Costa Rican newspaper relief in a freedom of expression case.

On September 7, the court, which is based in San José, Costa Rica, issued “provisional measures” ordering Costa Rican authorities to stay certain sections of a 1999 defamation verdict against the daily La Nación and against La Nación reporter Mauricio Herrera Ulloa.

Decisions of the court are legally binding on Costa Rica and other countries that have accepted the court’s jurisdiction.

This is the first time the court has taken such action in a freedom of expression case. Provisional measures are only issued in cases of “extreme gravity and urgency, and when necessary to avoid irreparable damage to persons,” according to the American Convention on Human Rights.

“CPJ is extremely pleased with the court’s ruling,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We hope the Costa Rican government will implement the ruling without delay.”

The case
On November 12, 1999, the Penal Court of the First Judicial Circuit in San José convicted Herrera Ulloa of criminal defamation based on 1995 articles published in La Nación that cited European press reports alleging corruption by former Costa Rican diplomat Félix Przedborski.

The court ordered Herrera Ulloa to pay Przedborski damages equivalent to 120 days’ wages. It also ruled that the journalist’s name be inscribed in an official list of convicted criminals. La Nación was ordered to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees and 60 million colones (US$190,000) in damages; to publish the ruling; and to remove all links from its Web site that could lead readers to the offending articles.

After the Costa Rican Supreme Court rejected La Nación‘s appeal, the newspaper and the journalist filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Both the commission and the Inter-American Court are entities of the Organization of American States.

After the Penal Court refused to stay its ruling while the commission studied the case, the commission asked the Inter-American Court to take provisional measures.

In its September 7 decision, the Inter-American Court ordered Costa Rican authorities to keep Herrera Ulloa off the official list of convicted criminals until it issues a final ruling. The government was also instructed to suspend enforcement of the order that La Nación publish the Penal Court’s ruling.