6 December 2007
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, released the following statement at the conclusion of his visit to Honduras, which took place from 26 to 30 November 2007.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Honduras for inviting me to visit the country in my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. I would also like to thank all national and international personalities, institutions, NGOs, members of the media, trade unions and individuals with whom I met and had fruitful exchange of opinions and information. I also wish to thank the United Nations Development Program Office in Honduras for its valuable support and assistance.
Honduras is a developing country, a democratic constitutional republic rooted in Roman and Spanish Civil Law with a strong determination and desire for stability anchored on unshakable democratic principles. As other countries in the region, Honduras has faced the consequences of dictatorship and authoritarianism, as well as the effects of armed conflicts in neighboring States. This historical background presents the Honduran people with important challenges and difficulties, but also with opportunities to strengthen their democratic institutions so that past problems are not repeated in the future.
First of all, I would like to highlight my conviction that the invitation extended to me by the Government of Honduras is a signal of its recognition of the central place occupied by freedom of expression in any democratic society and an indication of its willingness to cooperate with United Nations independent experts.
During my visit, I learned about important legislative developments that are designed to strengthen freedom of expression and protect practitioners. I welcome the fact that the authorities have shown great initiative to reform legislation in response to various societal demands and express my hope that this positive outcome will continue in the future.
The Law on Transparency (habeas data) represents a substantial progress vis-à-vis previous legislation. Authorities should be attentive to guarantee that it is not used as a political instrument, which would go counter to its original purpose. Civil society should continue performing the vital role it played in the initial drafting of the bill and keep monitoring the implementation of the legislation in the future. In my report to the Human Rights Council, I will include an in-depth wider analysis of the main strengths of the Law and suggestions to improve its shortcomings.
In spite of these important advances, I have encountered issues of serious concern to my mandate. The following appear to be some of the major impediments to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Honduras:
1. Rampant insecurity for journalists in the country and general fear amongst various professional groups, civil servants and other ordinary citizens;
In my capacity of Special Rapporteur, I would like to express my deepest concern over the events that have taken place lately in Honduras. I strongly condemn the assassination of a journalist, Mr. Carlos Salgado, and the voluntary exile of two other journalists, Mr. Geovanny García and Mr. Dagoberto Rodríguez, who ran away for fear of being assassinated.
During my meetings with journalists, media owners, media personalities and many members of civil society involved in the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, including victims of recent violations, I heard testimonies of several journalists who are currently under threats. These threats need to be closely monitored and investigated by the police.
In my meetings with civil society, an issue that was constantly addressed was the impact of organized crime in the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, particularly the activities of investigative journalists. In such a context, these protection programs for journalists are essential but insufficient.
2. Lack of any substantive conclusions of investigations by the police;
Apart from the problem of insecurity, I am also concerned by the impunity of perpetrators of these acts. In my discussions with state officials, civil society, victims and their families, I was informed that so far nobody has been convicted of these crimes.
3. Slow pace in adapting national legislation to international standards on freedom of opinion and expression;
Some particular aspects of the Honduran legislation on freedom of expression are not in full conformity with international standards. I would like to reiterate that censorship, direct or indirect, is unacceptable; laws and practices restricting the right of the news media to gather and distribute information freely must be abolished. Government authorities, national or local, must not interfere with the content of print or broadcast news, or restrict access to news sources.
Offences against good reputation, included in the Honduran Criminal Code, need to be decriminalized. The fact that offences against good reputation are included in the Criminal Code leads to self-censorship by journalists, who usually are afraid of being taken to Court for voicing violations and corruption activities by those in power. Examples of this are still fresh in recent memories and some of these cases have been dismissed by the Court. If the clause is to protect good reputation, it is imperative that the Civil Code, and not the Criminal Code, be applicable.
4. Independence of the media
I have been informed that many newspapers depend on State advertising for their financial health. State advertising should not be used as a means to put pressure on any media, particularly those critical to the Government or any special interest groups. I have also been informed that some journalists are on Government payroll. If this is true, it is unacceptable and contrary to press ethics.
- Freedom of opinion and expression should be placed as a priority item on the national agenda. It is important that Government officials recognize the existing problems in this area and commit to make effort to find appropriate solutions.
- The authorities should review their protection programs for journalists, substantially reinforce the protection provided to journalists and bring to speedy conclusion all ongoing investigations into crimes committed against journalists.
- Along with other Special Rapporteurs, I have inquired the Government of Honduras about the alleged violations of the right to freedom expression of indigenous peoples. There are few media outlets that cover the views of the indigenous peoples, minority groups and other small ethnic communities. Their right to express opinions and to be part of the decision making process needs to be reinforced. It is important that Government initiates policies to open up media outlets for these groups.
- In conclusion, I would like to highlight, in my capacity as Special Rapporteur, that it is urgent and necessary that links be established between members of civil society, the Government, the judiciary, the police and the media in order to look for common solutions to the grave problems affecting Honduras.
This is a summary of the main preliminary findings of my visit to Honduras.My report, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council, will include detailed observations and recommendations, addressing all the issues and concerns mentioned above in greater detail.
I stand ready to provide follow-up and further advice to the Government and the people of Honduras in their efforts to promote and protect all human rights, especially the right to freedom of opinion and expression.”