Honduras: UN human rights expert warns on threats to freedom of expression

6 December 2007

Honduran journalists, media owners and many members of civil society face a climate of “rampant insecurity” that includes the threat of assassination, pressure from organized crime and widespread impunity for those who carry out violent acts against them, an independent United Nations human rights expert today.

Ambeyi Ligabo, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, released a statement following his five-day visit to Honduras last week in which he urged authorities in the Central American country to make the issue a priority item on the national agenda.

Although Honduras has made important advances in framing legislation to strengthen freedom of expression and protect practitioners, Mr. Ligabo said the Government needs to step up its efforts to ensure that journalists and others enjoy better protections.

He noted that one journalist was assassinated recently and two others have gone into voluntary exile for fear of being killed as well.

During his meetings with media professionals and others, the Special Rapporteur said he “heard testimonies of several journalists who are currently under threats. These threats need to be closely monitored and investigated by the police.”

He said that so far no one has yet been convicted of violent acts related to efforts to clamp down on freedom of expression and opinion, and he called for the “speedy conclusion [of] all ongoing investigations into crimes committed against journalists.”

Mr. Ligabo also raised concerns about the independence of the media, given that many newspapers depend on Government 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 [the] Government payroll. If this is true, it is unacceptable and contrary to press ethics.”

In addition, he noted what he described as the slow pace in adapting national laws to international standards of freedom of opinion and expression, particularly concerning censorship and offences in the criminal code against “good reputation,” which he said leads to self-censorship by journalists afraid to voice allegations about corruption by those in powers.

“Examples of this are still fresh in recent memories… If the clause is to protect good reputation, it is imperative that the civil code, and not the criminal code, be applicable.”

The right of indigenous groups and other vulnerable minorities to have their voices heard in the Honduran media and public square also deserve greater reinforcement, he stressed.

Mr. Ligabo, who serves in an unpaid, personal capacity, was appointed as a Special Rapporteur in 2002 and reports to the UN Human Rights Council. A full report on his visit to Honduras is expected next year.

 

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