Freedom of Expression
The right to freedom of expression is stated in Article 4 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and Articles 13 and 14 of the American Convention of Human Rights. Given the well recognized relevance and importance of the issue, both within the Inter-American system as well as in other regional and universal systems, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (the Commission), following a decision of the Summit of the Americas, created in 1997 a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. Three years later, the Commission adopted the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression interpreting the related provisions of both the American Declaration and the Convention on this issue.
Article 1 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression recognizes that "Freedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals." According to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights:
- "Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a democratic society rests. It is indispensable for the formation of public opinion. It is also a conditio sine qua non for the development of political parties, trade unions, scientific and cultural associations and, in general, those who wish to influence the public. It represents, in short, the means that enable the community, when exercising its options, to be sufficiently informed."
The right to freedom of expression includes the right to think and freely express ideas, thoughts, etc., as well as to seek, receive, and distribute information and ideas by any means available. In this sense, freedom of expression has a dual character since it includes an individual right to express and a collective right to receive information, ideas, opinions, etc.
Furthermore, in interpreting the American Convention, freedom of expression also includes the necessary exclusion of prohibitions, both direct and indirect; the incompatibility of Private or Private Monopoly over the media; and the prohibition of prior censorship, among others.
Finally, the right to freedom of expression contemplates the right to freedom of information. The Inter-American Court has held that "a society that is not well informed is not a society that is truly free."
Although the work of the Commission's Special Rapporteur and many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) has had a positive impact, for example, through the drafting of new legislation to eliminate restrictive concepts such as "desacato" laws in some countries, the current state of freedom of expression within the hemisphere continues to be of concern. Indeed, there are movements in the region that threaten to endanger and even undo the progress made to date.