On 28 November, within the framework of the official mission to Paraguay of UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue, the signature of a letter of intent between the Republic of Paraguay and UNESCO took place in Asuncion, to establish a permanent safety mechanism for journalists in the country.
The letter was jointly signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs Eladio Loizaga, the President of the Congress Roberto Acevedo, and the representative of the Supreme Court of Justice Minister Raúl Torres Kinser.
In recent years, a number of Latin American countries have witnessed how access to public information, freedom of expression, press freedom and the safety of journalists emerge strongly in political and legal debates. In response to this trend, the Inter-American System has developed a broad legal framework, and most Latin American countries have made great efforts to adapt their laws to this framework. However, these changes are not always in line with international standards and recommendations. By signing this letter of intent, and with the support of UNESCO, Paraguay will become the first country in the world where the three powers of the government: executive, legislative and judicial, formally commit themselves to working towards strengthening access to information, freedom of expression, press freedom, and the safety of journalists.
Thus, the letter proposes to move towards greater access to public information in the country, in line with objective 16.10 of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015. The Agenda 2030 specifically establishes that all States should have a safety mechanism for journalists as a necessary element for freedom of the press and development. The letter is also in accordance with the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
According to UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, "Press freedom and the safety of journalists are essential not only for democracy but also for development. By signing this letter of intent, Paraguay sets an unprecedented example of the three powers of state working together on this matter."
The Paraguayan safety mechanism for journalists will advance new policies and regulations on freedom of the press and the safety of journalists in the country, as well as strengthen existing ones. The prevention of violence against journalists, including their training, as well as the training of public safety forces and justice operators, are among its main tasks. It will also promote the establishment of a rapid response procedure for the protection of journalists under imminent threat. The procedure will include the monitoring and documentation of cases of violence against journalists, as well.
For its implementation, a National Inter-Institutional Commission will be created, composed of representatives of the three powers of the government, representatives of the press and civil society organizations, working in coordination with the National Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO (CNC-UNESCO).
In the last biennium, UNESCO has been part of a series of initiatives aimed at promoting freedom of expression, access to public information and the safety of journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), capacity-building activities were organized for more than 2,500 judges and other judicial operators. More recently, on 17 November, UNESCO and the Ibero-American Judicial Summit signed a Memorandum of Understanding at UNESCO Headquarters to strengthen their cooperation on issues of freedom of expression, access to public information, transparency and the safety of journalists. Agreements have also been reached on this subject with Courts of Latin America individually.
In this context, during the last official visit of the Director-General of UNESCO to Paraguay in June 2016, the Supreme Court of the country announced the creation of a safety mechanism for journalists and requested support from the Organization. UNESCO congratulates the Republic of Paraguay for its pioneering efforts and, by signing the letter of intent, ratifies its willingness to assist the country in this process.