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24 October 2000

OAS Issues Declaration for Protecting Freedom of Expression

Washington -- The human rights body of the Organization of American States (OAS) has approved a declaration that says the "consolidation and development of democracy depends on the very existence of freedom of expression."

The OAS's Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) calls the "Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression," approved October 19, a "fundamental document for the defense of freedom within the inter-American system."

The OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Santiago Canton, said in a statement that the declaration, composed of 13 principles, "represents the most important step for freedom of expression in recent years." He added: "Its approval not only constitutes a recognition of the importance of freedom of expression in the Americas, but also establishes international standards for more effective protection of the exercise of this right."

One of the declaration's principles says access to information held by the state is a fundamental right of individuals and that states are obligated to guarantee it. Another principle says that "prior censorship, interference, or direct or indirect pressure on any expression, opinion, or information disseminated by any oral, written, artistic, visual, or electronic means of communication should be prohibited by law." Still another principle defines assassination, kidnapping, intimidation, and threats directed at journalists as actions that "place severe constraints on freedom of expression."

The declaration also discusses the issue of criminal defamation laws, known as "desacato," which provide special protection to the heads of state and other public officials against open criticism.

In his statement, Special Rapporteur Canton expressed concern that these desacato laws are still in place and continue to be enforced in various countries in the hemisphere. Such laws, he said, violate freedom of expression and the right to information.

It is important that countries of the hemisphere "begin to bring their laws into compliance with the principles of this Declaration," Canton said. "The democracies of the hemisphere will be strengthened and we will make a huge stride in the fight against corruption."

The complete document is available on the ICHR web site at:

Source: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/washfile.htm

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