Access to Public Information, Content Regulation / Censorship, Political Expression, Press Freedom, Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
Sir Dawda K Jawara v. The Gambia
Closed Expands Expression
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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR) decided that Mexico violated the right to freedom of expression of Héctor Félix Miranda based on his murder and the fact that the investigation of the crime was still open after 10 years. The IACHR also determined that the murder of the journalist had an impact in the public’s right to receive information, therefore violating the right to freedom of expression in its social dimension. It was also established that the longstanding impunity for the murder violated Mr. Miranda’s family’s right to a fair trial and to judicial protection.
The journalist Héctor Félix Miranda was co-director of the weekly newsletter Zeta, where he wrote the column “Un poco de algo” (Bits and Pieces) containing “gossip from the political sphere” and “sarcastic remarks about government officials” [p. 3]. Héctor Félix Miranda was murdered on April 20, 1988, on his way to the place where he worked. The petitioners considered that his murder was directly linked to his weekly column.
Victoriano Medina Moreno, a former judicial police officer from Baja California state, and his boss, Antonio Vera Palestina, were accused and convicted of being the physical perpetrators of the crime. However, more than ten years on after the event, the masterminds behind the murder have still not been held to account.
In analyzing the case, the IACHR found that the State had, “–to the detriment of Héctor Félix Miranda and that of every citizen–violated the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 13 of the American Convention; and–to the detriment of members of his family– the rights to a fair trial and to the judicial protection set forth in Articles 8 and 25 of that international instrument.” [p.66]
The IACHR needed to determine whether the failure to investigate and establish who was responsible for the murder of a journalist constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
The IACHR recalled that the right to freedom of expression is fundamental for the development of democracy and for the full-fledged exercise of human rights. In accordance with the Inter-American Court’s precedents, the IACHR also pointed out that it is a conditio sine qua non for the development of other groups such as labor unions and political parties.
The Commission reiterated that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established that “freedom of expression includes giving and receiving information and has a double dimension, individual and collective” and that “the freedom and independence of journalists is an asset that must be protected and guaranteed” [p. 46]. It also pointed out that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has declared that this right is “universal and contains within it the legal power of people, individually or collectively considered, to express, transmit and diffuse their thoughts; in a parallel and correlative way, freedom of information is also universal and embodies the collective right of everyone to receive information without any interference or distortion” [p. 46].
The Commission further recalled that the Principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec state that “[f]reedom of expression and of the press are severely limited by murder, terrorism, kidnapping, intimidation, the unjust imprisonment of journalists, the destruction of facilities, violence of any kind and impunity for perpetrators. Such acts must be investigated promptly and punished harshly”.
In the same way, the IACHR highlighted that “the aggressions against journalists seek to silence them, and additionally constitute a violation to the right of society in general to the free access to information” [p. 42].
Therefore, for the IACHR, “a State’s refusal to conduct a full investigation of the murder of a journalist is particularly serious because of its impact on society. This type of crime also has a chilling effect most notably on other journalists but also on ordinary citizens, as it instills the fear of denouncing any and all kinds of offenses, abuses or illegal acts. The Commission considered that such an effect can only be avoided by swift action on the part of the State to punish all perpetrators, as is its duty under international and domestic law.” [p. 52].
In this specific case, the Commission indicated that although the domestic courts were unable to determine definitively who the mastermind or masterminds behind the murder were, “the evidence shows that Héctor Félix Miranda was murdered because of what he wrote in his newspaper articles. In fact, the confession of Victoriano Medina Moreno, admitting that he had committed the crime because he had been criticized in Felix Miranda’s column, was noted earlier in this text” [p. 51]. For the Commission, in this specific case “effective judicial protection must include a full investigation into the murder of Héctor Félix Miranda so as to determine, conclusively and definitively, who the masterminds behind the murder were, under the rules of due process” [p. 29].
The Commission concluded that the failure to investigate and punish the masterminds behind Miranda’s murder, in accordance with Mexican laws and domestic procedures, constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The IACHR also concluded that the killing of the journalist was an “attack on the duty of citizens to denounce arbitrary conduct and abuses against society, aggravated by the impunity of one or more of the masterminds. Therefore, the absence of a serious and full investigation into the facts in this case gives rise to the international responsibility of the Mexican State for violating Héctor Félix Miranda’s right to freedom of expression and the right of citizens in general to receive information freely and to learn the truth about the events that took place” [p. 56].
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
In this decision, the Inter-American Commission recognizes the importance of pursuing the logical lines of investigation related to the pursuit of journalism. Accordingly, it emphasized the importance of determining the architects, including the masterminds, behind crimes against journalists.
For the Commission, a State’s refusal to conduct a full investigation into the murder of a journalist is particularly serious because of its impact on society. It also emphasized that this type of crime also has a chilling effect not only on other journalists but also on ordinary citizens, as it instills a fear of denouncing any and all kinds of irregularities and abuses.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
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