January 18, 2012
José Miguel Insulza
Secretary General of the Organization of American States
1889 F Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Dear Mr. Insulza:
The Committee to Protect Journalists has been monitoring with increasing concern an offensive launched by the government of Ecuador aimed at weakening the Inter-American human rights system, an effort that if successful could represent a serious blow to freedom of expression in the hemisphere.
In June 2011, the Organization of American States (OAS) created a Special Working Group composed of member states with the stated goal of strengthening the human rights system. In December, the group submitted a report to the OAS that included three recommendations promoted by the Ecuadoran government that not only contradict the supposed purpose of the group but could debilitate the work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. We urge you to publicly repudiate any attempts by member states to weaken these institutions and to use your leadership to ensure the recommendations strengthen the Inter-American human rights system.
The recommendations follow an attack by the Ecuadoran government against the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has accused of serving the interests of big media. Presented in vague and broad language, the recommendations include preventing the rapporteur from publishing its own report on freedom of expression in the Americas; tightening the office’s funding by not allowing it to seek independent financial support; and creating a code of conduct to increase states’ control.
As you are aware, the Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR, the OAS’ human rights monitoring body, was created in 1997 to advance freedom of expression issues in the hemisphere. For more than a decade, it has contributed to the advancement of press freedom. The office has emphasized the need to end impunity in crimes against the press, denounced government censorship, campaigned for the elimination of insult and defamation laws, and promoted access to information. With the support of the human rights community and regional media, this office has stressed the importance of applying the highest international standards on freedom of expression.
The first recommendation proposed by the Ecuadoran government would require that the rapporteur abandon its annual report in favor of publishing a summary in the IACHR’s general report. The rapporteur’s annual report has been a reference on the state of freedom of expression in the Americas, and minimizing the report will clearly undermine its impact.
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom for Expression’s mandate allows it to raise its own funds; it does not receive funding from the OAS. The Ecuadoran government’s proposal calls for a “balanced” distribution of funds, which is an attempt to limit the funding of the rapporteur on freedom of expression and starve the office of resources.
You have frequently argued that “democracy does not exist unless there is total freedom of expression.” During a speech in Bogotá, Colombia, in February 2011, you warned about the use of legal mechanisms by states to “limit freedom of expression.” Yet the proposed recommendations would have exactly that effect.
CPJ believes that these recommendations could seriously damage the significant work performed by the special rapporteur. We reiterate our call for you to strongly support the work of the IACHR and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression by publicly denouncing any attempts by member states aimed at weakening these institutions. Your legacy as a supporter of fundamental rights is at stake.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your response.