Discurso - Dr. César Gaviria

Speech by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Dr. Gaviria at the 59th General Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association Chicago, Illinois Octubre, 2003 Mr. President of the Inter-American Press Association, Andres Garcia members of the Association, Ladies, and Gentlemen: I want to thank the people of Chicago for their wonderful hospitality, and specially Mr. Jack Fuller, President of the Tribune Publishing Company for inviting me to this Assembly. It is a great honor to be able to address the distinguished audience of the Inter-American Press Association. I have no doubt that all of us gathered here today agree that freedom of expression is one of the most highly cherished values in democratic societies. IAPAS commitment to freedom of press in the Western Hemisphere and its support of rights and responsibilities of journalism has played a key role in the strengthening of democracy in our region. In our Hemisphere we established that every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever, in the American Declaration of the rights and duties of Men, in 1948, even before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed. Years later, the American Convention on Human Rights included freedom of thought and expression as one of the human rights that states undertook not only to guarantee, but also to win respect for. We must remember that those who have interpreted this American Convention have concluded that the guarantees embodied in it were designed to be as generous as possible and to leave little room for restrictions on the free circulation of ideas. The scope of protection of freedom of expression proclaimed in this inter-American instrument is broader even than that established in the European Convention or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. But since then, Latin America history is littered with shameful and lamentable examples of dictatorial regimes and authoritarian governments that chose that option, and we should take every precaution to avoid revisiting this practice. The defense of freedom of the press and of expression has gained new momentum, there has been a surge in the defense of this right. Recently, several countries in the Hemisphere have fully tested the mettle of democratic institutions. At times of crisis, fraught with political and social tension, freedom of expression has become a catalyst permitting disputes to be resolved without destroying the social fabric. At the same time, faced with social and political conflicts, and even threats to national security as the fight against terrorism, states are tempted to curb liberties in order to safeguard security and a misguided notion of public order. During the 90s, we had the case of Peru where governmental abuses such as subordination of the armed forces for illegal and political ends, massive corruption, censorship of the media and limits on civil liberties were on the rise. The determination of the Peruvian people, its commitment to democracy, and some cooperation from the OAS and the International Community, brought democracy back. Those actions were the basis for the most resounding expressions of support for freedom of expression in OAS member-states, with the adoption, in September 2001, of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We have clung to its precepts as governments in the Hemisphere, beset with problems, have striven to respond to the demands of citizens, meet their needs, and address the protests and unrest prompted by government decisions and policies, as well as dissatisfaction with globalization. With the Charter we are protecting the right of our peoples to live in democracy, we are incorporating our shared vision and principles, our needs, our aspirations, our collective will, and our commitment to work together to defend our core values. In the Americas we all agree that representative democracy is more than free and transparent elections. Under the Charter, democracy means respect for human rights and public liberties, the separation and independence of powers, transparency, accountability, honesty, responsibility, citizen participation, a strong civil society, and a pluralistic party system. It also means access to information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, a system of effective checks and balances, elimination of all kind of discrimination, and the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. The Charter draws attention to a new generation of rights, regarding indigenous peoples, ethnic, religious and cultural diversity in the Americas, regarding children, women, migrant workers and their families, and rights of workers based on the conventions of the International Labor Organization. The Charter is a result of the belief that we stand today at a critical historical juncture. Political globalization has generated a worldwide concern for social justice and the defense of democratic principles and human rights. We face significant threats to the democratic systems of several nations in our hemisphere. We have weak public institutions and political systems and in many nations the state is unable to provide basic health, education, and citizen security. The Charter provides our nations with the instruments to confront threats and challenges collectively, in a manner that is orderly, decisive, timely, and consensual. The Charter is not the culmination of our journey in the preservation and defense of democracy, but rather, the most important tool to aid us in that journey. We must work diligently to ensure that democracy prospers and flourishes in our Hemisphere. It is specifically designed with prevention in mind and is intended to provide active pro-democracy support from our community of nations. The Charter goes much further than any of our previous instruments to offer aid to a member state which fears that its democratic system may be in peril. At the same time, the Charter enshrines the resolute commitment of states to promote and defend democracy, as an essential ingredient for the social, political, and economic development of the peoples of the Americas Two years after the signing of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, we can all look back in satisfaction on how much we have accomplished and what the Charter means to the region today. It is an example and a guide for the rest of the world. .The Charter is, thus, the most important symbol of our principal mission at the OAS: the preservation and promotion of democracy. I have no qualms in asserting that the Charter has become a keynote, living, indispensable, and imperative document Nevertheless, the Charter only consists of words on paper that need to be brought to life through our actions. The importance of the Charter will only grow if you, publishers and journalists of this Hemisphere, help us to take it, in heart and spirit, and make it part of the daily lives of the citizens and the leaders of our Hemisphere. There is still much to be done, and your commitment is essential in this process. Additionally, I should not omit mentioning the Declaration of Santiago on Democracy and Public Trust, recently adopted by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of OAS member states in our last general Assembly. This Declaration recognizes, yet again, that democracy is strengthened by full respect for freedom of expression, access to information, and free dissemination of ideas, and that the media can contribute to an environment of tolerance for all opinions, promote a culture of peace, and strengthen democratic governance. With all these undertakings by states, one might think that full exercise of freedom of the press is guaranteed in our Hemisphere. Yet you, as members of the Inter-American Press Association, are well aware of the problems that abound in some countries, and which you have to face day after day. All too often this is a rhetorical right to which only lip-service is paid: in many countries in the region, there are obstacles in the practice of full freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Of course, we are far from what happened almost 30 years ago, when democracies were the exception and dictatorships the rule. But still many of our countries have inherited practices instilled in the dark years of authoritarian regimes. Dictatorships left deep scars and it was utopian to think that, solely by setting up democratic institutions, the authoritarian instincts of those who then legitimately took over the reins of power would automatically be overcome. Many of the limitations of the regimes we put behind us two decades ago still, even now, impair the full exercise of freedom of expression, because it is less uncomfortable to exercise power behind a screen of secrecy than to do so under public scrutiny and the watchful eye of citizens. Those practices erode the foundations of democracies. If freedom of information and freedom of expression are a thorn in the flesh of anti- democratic systems of government, violations of those rights --however subtle --cannot be accepted in a democracy since they are profoundly incompatible with it. We are here to be certain that we all do whatsoever is needed to avoid it Today, even though many of our countries have adopted significant measures to enhance access to information, some circles are still reluctant to subject governmental decisions to public opinion, thereby hampering citizen oversight of decisions made by those who govern. Another obstacle to full exercise of freedom of expression is direct or indirect censorship of criticism. Several tools are used to censor. The first and most extreme is the murder of those who dare to criticize the authorities or a particular branch of the authorities. It is unacceptable that since IAPA began keeping count, in 1988, 269 journalists have been slain in the Americas. Even when we claim to have crossed the threshold to democracy, the assassination of journalists is an ongoing and a very big concern in the region. The second tool used to silence critics is what may be called judicial harassment. Some of the laws used nowadays in an arbitrary fashion. Censorship laws to dissuade criticism of government authorities are nothing other than the bitter aftertaste of the efforts of authoritarian regimes to dress up in legal clothes their suppression of comments and ideas that proved to be uncomfortable. Of course, there are many other forms of intimidation threatening the lives of those that dare to criticize government officials or that disagree on some public decisions. Given these practices as means of silencing the press, the least that state institutions must do, is take a political decision to investigate, find, and properly punish those responsible for these crimes and at the same time to change those laws that try to intimidate journalists. I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Inter- American Press Asociation for the extraordinary will in pressing governments and judicial systems in combating impunity. At the same time, in order to mitigate judicial harassment, we should continue to press all the branches of government in reforming legislation and eliminating any possibility of lawsuits against those who criticize public figures. We endorse the mandate of the Heads of State and of Government of the Americas in the Third Summit of the Americas, where we were asked to Ensure that journalists and opinion leaders are free to investigate and denounce without fear of reprisals, harassment, or retaliatory actions. To monitor and address these problems, the inter-American system for the protection of human rights and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression has worked intensively and usefully to onsolidate and defend freedom of the press in the Hemisphere. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression drawn up by that office, approved by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, and supported by the Inter-American Press Association, has become, along with the Declaration of Chapultepec, a highly valuable instrument when it comes to evaluating the status of freedom of expression in the different states. The impact of the work done by the Rapporteurship in the framework of the Inter-American Commission in its first five years of existence, allow me to state that the Heads of State and of Government of the Americas were right in celebrating the creation of the Rapporteurship during the Second Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago, Chile, in 1998. They were also right when, in the following Summit, held in Quebec, they reiterated their support for the work of the Rapporteurship. It is important to keep this political support and to boost financial and institutional backing of this office, enabling it to expand its activities. We need to guarantee that gi ven these current obstacles to the full exercise of freedom of expression, its discussion must always be on the agenda of meetings addressing problems associated with democratic institutions and meeting to look for good governance in the Hemisphere. Some might wrongly suppose that Latin America has more urgent matters to deal with than the struggle for stronger guarantees for freedom of expression. It is true that the high levels of poverty and growing inequality experienced by some countries make it difficult for them to play an active part in the democratic political arena. Nevertheless, it would be a big mistake to put off strengthening freedom of expression as a fundamental component of democracy. Regarding this matter, I want to refer to Economics Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Zen, who brought to our attention how freedom of expression is key to the human development of political and social participation skills, and that it allows individuals to express their demands and draw political attention to them. In this moment of' our history be it as an instrument for safeguarding other freedoms, or as a part and parcel of democracy, freedom of expression must merit the region s most resolute respect and any attempt to undermine it must be rejected out of hand. Simultaneously work done by an independent and critical press is vital to ensure the effective exercise of human beings rights and freedoms; political participation of citizens; and the sustainability of the rule of law. Hence the importance of journalistic respect for the ethical principles governing the profession. The credibility and the very survival of the media, and the public s access to information, depend on that ethic. However, the fact that the media must be responsible in their mission of keeping society informed cannot serve as a pretext for imposing practices or mechanisms that could impair their work. J ournalism serves the public, not the government nor the vested interests of pressure groups. The independence of journalism is a social good that demands respect on the part of the authorities, needs to be defended by citizens, and calls upon those who work in the media to go about their work in a manner commensurate with the social value entrusted to their care. May all of us civil society, democratic governments, and you, the Inter-American Press Association strive to implement that imperative. Thank you very much.