Promoting freedom of expression and access to public information in Latin America

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I. Bokova and F. La Rue stressing the importance of the agreement on training of judges
© Supreme Court of Justice of Paraguay
30 June 2016

From 25 to 27 June, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue accompanied the Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bokova in her mission to Paraguay and Uruguay to strengthen the cooperation in the area of freedom of expression, access to public information and safety of journalists.

Director-General visit to Uruguay and Paraguay

On 27 June, the Director-General of UNESCO signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Supreme Court of Justice of Uruguay to carry out common initiatives related to freedom of expression, transparency and access to public information. The Director-General emphasized that upholding independent judicial systems is a fundamental pillar to guaranteeing freedom of expression and transparency in any democracy, and Uruguay for its uncompelled efforts for promoting and defending human rights.

The Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue, who was present during the signing ceremony, stressed the importance of fostering the role of the judiciary systems as key players in promoting and protecting freedom of expression in Latin America and the rest of the world. “Judicial operators are key to defending and promoting human rights including freedom of expression, access to public information and safety of journalists. Therefore, this Memorandum is a model that should be used by other courts,” he said.

The Memorandum with the Supreme Court of Justice of Uruguay will provide a strategic framework for reinforcing the capacities of judicial officials in Uruguay. During the coming 18 months covered by the Memorandum, a series of activities will be undertaken with an overall objective to reinforce judicial operators’ capacities and knowledge on the rights to freedom of expression, access to public information and other correlated rights. Among these activities, training seminars for judges will be organized using Internet, MOOC and ICT. It is expected that the Memorandum will also contribute to enhancing the protection of the right to access information, which is a priority for Uruguay.

The project will be implemented by UNESCO’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean with the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (OSR) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and in coordination with the Ibero-American Judicial Summit whose Permanent Secretariat is being hold by Uruguay.

During the Director-General’s visit to Paraguay, the Supreme Court announced that it has taken an initiative with the executive and legislative powers to establish a permanent safety mechanism for journalists in Paraguay and would request UNESCO to accompany them in this initiative.

UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information Frank La Rue responded that he finds this initiative very positive as Paraguay is the first country establishing a mechanism on safety of journalists with the participation of the three powers of State. “This initiative can become a great example for all States because, within the new UNESCO framework in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Development Agenda and in accordance with SDG 16, all States should have such mechanism of safety of journalists as a necessary element for freedom of the press and development,” said Frank La Rue.

The Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information also met with civil society organizations working in the areas of freedom of expression and communication.

On 27 June, on behalf of the Director-General, Frank La Rue inaugurated the Palmyra exhibition in Montevideo (Palmira en Villa Ocampo) as part of the Unite4Heritage campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the destruction of the cultural heritage of humanity in the Middle East and illicit trafficking in cultural property. Frank La Rue emphasized the message of the Director-General of UNESCO that protecting our physical heritage is not only a matter of stones and buildings but, more importantly, an issue of values and identities, which is crucial for all nations. “We feed ourselves from the past to be free to plan our future,” he said.


Roberto Varela, Spanish Ambassador to Uruguay; Lidia Brito, Director of UNESCO’s Office in Montevideo; and Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information
© UNESCO

Fostering the role of judiciary systems as key players in promoting freedom of expression

In recent years, a number of Latin American countries have witnessed how rights such as access to public information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression on the Internet are strongly emerging to the forefront of political and legal debates. In response to this trend, the inter-American System has developed a broad legal framework. Accordingly, most of the countries in Latin America have made great efforts to align their laws with this framework. Nevertheless, these changes are not always in line with international standards and recommendations.

During the last biennium, UNESCO was part of a series of initiatives aimed at the promotion of freedom of expression, access to public information and safety of journalists. Capacity building activities were organized for more than 2,500 judges and other judicial operators, including a MOOC course on International legal framework on freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists.

Last April, UNESCO and the Ibero-American Network for Schools of Judges held a workshop on the promotion of freedom of expression, access to public information, transparency and the safety of journalists, followed by a seminar on Inter-American judicial standards. Both activities were implemented in the framework of latest Plenary Assembly of the Ibero-American Judicial Summit (April 2016), which was attended by Judges and Chief Justices from all 23 Ibero-American countries and where UNESCO acted as an international observer.

The current initiative will support the Permanent Secretariat of the Ibero-American Judicial Summit to implement a training-of-trainers programme for operators of Latin American Judicial Systems to improve their knowledge of international standards in freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists. It is expected that this initiative will encourage the Member States of the Ibero-American Judicial Summit to incorporate freedom of expression and its correlated rights into their judicial schools’ curricula.

One of the key areas of this project is the support to Columbia University’s, Global Freedom of Expression Case Law Website, an online platform, which provides summaries of court cases pertaining to freedom of expression from around the world. This jurisprudence bank will facilitate the knowledge sharing among stakeholders to access or store information on cases related to freedom of expression.

Finally, another pressing issue that will be addressed through this project is the region’s digital sphere. Currently, Latin America is experiencing increasing penetration rates of Internet use providing new challenges for judiciaries on how to address freedom of expression and the safety of journalists online.

It is expected that the current project will strongly contribute to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression in Latin America through strengthening and supporting the role of the judiciary systems as a key player in the region.