57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 CONCLUSIONS The terrorist attacks on freedom made it all the more imperative for members of the Inter American Press Association to hold their 57th General Assembly in Washington DC, one of the cities that was a target of terrorism. In a response that has rarely been so unambiguous, more than four hundred journalists throughout the Americas have joined in affirming that the attacks were not on the United States, but on democracy – without which there can be no freedom of expression – and, indeed, on all humanity. Meeting in Washington one month after the attacks, the General Assembly thus affirms the fundamental democratic principles that inspire all free peoples. One of the factors contributing to the ongoing murders of journalists in Colombia has been another sort of terrorism. The past six months have been especially tragic. Seven Colombian colleagues died while working as journalists, making this one of the most violent periods the Colombian press has experienced. A total of twelve journalists are dead throughout the hemisphere, the other five having been killed in the following countries: Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico. Those responsible were drug traffickers, guerrilla and paramilitary groups, government officials and, in many cases, unknown individuals aided and abetted by powerful interests. The attacks on, and attempts to intimidate, media and journalists in almost every part of the hemisphere are too numerous to count. Unfortunately, impunity is still the common thread running through all these crimes. The avalanche of frivolous litigation, arbitrary laws still on the books that belong more to a past that ought to be put to rest, and the judicial decisions based on those laws hound newspapers in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay. In some of those countries it is being called a “damages industry” based on emotional distress complaints directed at journalists. Using the courts to silence newspapers through the enforcement of laws relating to such things as the crime of insulting public officials, the criminalization of defamation and allegedly protecting the privacy of public officials has spread throughout the Americas. Perhaps the prime example is the case of the daily newspaper El Liberal of Santiago del Estero, Argentina, which is facing lawsuits filed by four thousand women affiliated with the ruling party, seeking 19 million dollars all told, for reproducing information from another newspaper. The Venezuelan government has a court system that serves its political ends, and it uses government-owned media outlets to intimidate and silence any voice that departs from the official line. Thus, the ruling known by its docket number, 1013, limits the exercise of freedom of expression and the right to be informed, and manipulates the so-called right of reply established in Venezuela’s constitution for purposes of censorship. Such an aberration gives the president the privilege of not honoring the alleged right of reply on official media outlets, while at the same time requiring independents to do so. Such maneuvering exposes the true intentions of those who added the so-called right of reply to the constitution. The United States press has expressed concern at the proposal by the Bush administration to limit the free flow of information through self-censorship. The government has requested that the news media censor tapes and transcripts of Osama bin Laden’s statements, despite the public’s right to know. The fear on the part of the administration is that the statements contain coded messages. Yet, if such self-censorship were to prevail, the people of the United States would be the only ones in the world with no knowledge of what bin Laden is saying. Such attempts to limit the freedom of expression run counter to the democratic traditions of the United States. The strength of the people and institutions of the United States make such measures unnecessary. The great challenge facing the United States is to show that it can protect national security without sacrificing freedom. In Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela efforts to restrict the practice of journalism continue through the requirement of obtaining a license to practice certain professions and before disseminating information or expressing one’s ideas in the press. Such an affront is in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights. In Fidel Castro’s totalitarian Cuba, there is no freedom of speech. There is no press. There is only one true thing: The Official Lie. More encouraging is the decision by the Inter-American Human Rights Court to stay enforcement of the judgment against Costa Rican journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa on four counts of defamatory publication. Journalists throughout the hemisphere are hoping the Court will uphold the people’s right to varied information. The investigations being conducted as a result of the IAPA’s Impunity Project show that the web of complicities which characterize official efforts to identify those guilty of murdering journalists can be unraveled. One example is the case of Guatemalan journalist Irma Flaquer, who disappeared in 1980 and has been the subject of investigation by the IAPA since 1996. This investigative work culminated in a “friendly agreement” with the Guatemalan government, brokered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, under which a series of efforts are being made to restore the journalist’s reputation and, more particularly, reopen the court proceeding. In connection with such investigative work and efforts to spread the principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec, comparative law studies have been done which reveal the iniquity of the laws and regulations governing journalists and media outlets in Latin America. Bills are being sponsored in a number of countries to repeal such legislation, which provides for such things as the imprisonment of journalists for defamation. The press throughout the Americas has kept pace with the changing needs of the people and progress in democratic ideals. There are still many challenges, but the hemisphere’s journalists are ready and willing to face them. The growing sense of common cause in the face of the social ill of terrorism is finding pluralistic and representative expression in newspapers throughout the Americas. Terrorist acts call for just as firm a stance as does the decision to defend freedom. In this instance, no distinctions can be drawn among journalism in North America, the Caribbean and Latin America.