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UNESCO and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights organize a session on the right to freedom of expression

UNESCO and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, have organized a high-level panel discussion with Presidents and Chief Justices of Regional Human Rights Courts on freedom of expression and safety of journalists. The panel discussion took place on 3 May in Punta del Este, Uruguay, within the framework of the World Press Freedom Day Conference that is celebrated on 3 May.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights

The session, moderated by Ms Karen Kaiser, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of The Associated Press, brought together Hon. Ricardo Pérez Manrique, President of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR), Hon. Lady Justice Imani Daud Aboud, President of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and Hon. Ana Maria Guerra Martins, Judge from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to discuss about the international and regional legal frameworks underpinning the right to freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists, as well as trends, current status of protection of freedom of expression and greatest threats.

According to UNESCO’s observatory of killed journalists, over 1,200 journalists have been killed between 2006 and 2021, with close to 9 out of 10 of these cases remaining judicially unresolved. Other violations endured by journalists, include kidnappings, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, intimidation and harassment, both offline and online, and seizure or destruction of material. Women journalists are particularly impacted by threats and attacks, notably by those made online.

These trends were confirmed by the President of the IACHR, Hon. Ricardo Pérez Manrique during one of his interventions:

Today journalism is under siege due to the numerous attacks, particularly against women journalists. The Inter-American Court has widely dealt with these situations, where impunity is unfortunately widespread. Online harassment is also very worrying in our continent.
Ricardo Pérez Manrique

Considering the role of the courts and the generally higher degree of independence enjoyed by judges in many countries, important decisions to guarantee the implementation of freedom of expression standards and the safety of journalists have been taken over the years. This was highlighted by the President of the ACHPR, Hon. Lady Justice Imani Daud Aboud:

It is largely accepted that freedom of expression is the pillar of democracy. [As such] the African Court plays a key role in the enforcement of freedom of expression and the rights of journalists.
Imani Daud Aboud

Her words were echoed by the Judge from the ECHR, Hon. Ana Maria Guerra Martins, who recalled the role of the press as ‘watchdog’ in the democratic society and added:

In Europe there has been many threats to journalism, especially with regard to fake news that have been circulating related to the COVID pandemic, but in principle the European Court tends to ensure the largest enforcement possible of freedom of expression.
Ana Maria Guerra Martins

During the session, landmark decisions from the three regional human rights courts were presented, providing a regional overview of jurisprudence on these issues. More specifically, the topic of the criminalization of speech was addressed through the cases of Lohé Issa Konaté v. Burkina Faso, Palacio Urrutia v. Ecuador and Lingens v. Austria, while the cases of Norbert Zongo v. Burkina Faso, Bedoya Lima v. Colombia and Dink v. Turkey were mentioned to introduce the topic of safety of journalists and the prevailing issue of impunity for crimes committed against them.

In order to promote the exchange of best practices and to reinforce international and regional standards on freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists, thereby fostering the respect for the rule of law and fundamental freedoms in general, UNESCO has also established a number of institutional partnerships with regional human rights courts and judicial institutions, including Memoranda of Understanding with the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

These activities fall within the framework of UNESCO’s Judges’ Initiative which has, since 2013, raised the capacities of judicial actors in over 150 countries around the world. Over 23,000 judicial actors, including judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, have been trained on issues of freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists, notably through a series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), including in Africa, on-the-ground trainings and seminars for Supreme Court judges, and the publication of a number of toolkits and guidelines. Additionally, with the support of UNESCO, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has developed four editions of training courses on human rights for journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean. In this framework, the Court has created "RED DIALOGA," a journalist network that integrates more than 6.000 journalists for human rights in the region.