Miami (March 30, 2012)— Law and journalism students, brought together by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), concurred that contempt laws, criminal sanctions levied against journalists, and lack of access to public information conspire against freedom of the press and democracy.
These conclusions were reached during the hemispheric conference “The Inter-American Human Rights System and Freedom of Expression” held earlier this week in Washington, D.C. at the campus of American University, Washington College of Law (WCL).
In collaboration with American University, Stanford University and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the IAPA brought together more than 70 law and journalism students representative of 15 universities from 11 countries in the Americas. The objective for participating students included the examination of the inter-American system’s successes, reversals and challenges, as well as the review of litigation and conciliation cases, and the comparison of defamation and access to public information norms.
The Conference’s goal was to make future leaders aware of the supra-national and inter-governmental mechanisms that can be used to defend and promote freedom of expression among the people of the Americas.
Below are some of the main conclusions drawn by participating students after debating the topics that international experts presented during the event:
- Academics, judges and public prosecutors should be given more training on the international human rights system.
- The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) should have more rigorous criteria concerning the admissibility of denunciations. Students also urged that more cases reach “amicable solutions” and that together with the Inter-American Court, the Commission should solve more freedom of expression and of the press cases to create judicial precedent.
- For the system to operate effectively and equitably, all countries, including the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean nations should ratify the American Convention on Human Rights.
- The budget and operational capacity recommendations that the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States has made to the IACHR concerning the Office of Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression put in danger that office’s autonomy and effectiveness.
- Contempt laws should be eliminated and defamation should no longer be a criminal offense when public officials are involved. Also, there should be limits on civil responsibility.
- Journalists should have special protection due to their social role. Crimes against journalists should not be subject to statutes of limitations. The need to create systems of protection was also underscored.
- Norms on transparency and access to public information are difficult to apply and rarely complied with. The creation of autonomous organisms to control the implementation of these norms and create awareness among the public was emphasized to avert the reluctance of governments to divulge public information and to educate citizens on how to request this kind of data.
In addition to the work at American University, students had an opportunity to visit the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS), have a dialogue with Santiago Canton and Catalina Botero, IACHR Executive Secretary and Special Rapporteur, respectively, and to attend a negotiation session between IACHR commissioners and Peruvian government and civil society representatives.
For more information on the program of activities, the participating universities and experts and working documents go to the following link: http://www.sipiapa.org/v4/conferencia.php?idioma=sp.
The conference was sponsored by the following institutions: James McClatchy Fund of the San Francisco Foundation, Scripps Howard News Service and The Scripps Howard Foundation, Central Valley Foundation, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, James B. McClatchy Chair of Stanford University, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The IAPA was represented by the following officers and executives: Milton Coleman, IAPA president and Senior Editor of The Washington Post; Gustavo Mohme, Chair of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information and Editor of La República, Peru; Edward Seaton, former IAPA President and Editor of The Manhattan Mercury, Kansas; Miguel H. Otero, Chair of the Chapultepec Committee and Editor of El Nacional, Venezuela; Julio E. Muñoz, Executive Director; Ricardo Trotti, Press Freedom Director; Viviana Bianchi, Director of Development, and Melba Jiménez of the Impunity Project.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.