The Organisation of American States (OAS) was founded in 1948 to defend peace, justice, solidarity and independence throughout the Americas. PEN International works with the OAS to ensure that its work supports and protects freedom of expression and information.
The OAS oversees the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Also known as the Pact of San José, the ACHR was adopted in 1969 and came into force on 18 July 1978. However, it is not legally binding, and neither the USA nor Canada are signatories to the Convention.
ARTICLE 13: Freedom of Thought and Expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one’s choice.
3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.
ARTICLE 1: Obligation to Respect Rights
1. The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms, without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.
The OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Organisation of American States to examine and report back on a specific issue. The current Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression is Catalina Botero Marino of Colombia.
The post was created in 1998, and the Rapporteur’s mandate includes:
• Advising the IACHR in evaluating cases and requests for precautionary measures, preparing reports, and conducting on-site visits to OAS member countries to deepen the general observation of the situation and/or to investigate a particular situation having to do with the right to freedom of thought and expression.
• Conducting visits to OAS Member States.
• Promoting the adoption of legislative, judicial, administrative, or other types of measures that may be necessary to make effective the exercise of the right to freedom of thought and expression.
• Coordinating with ombudsmen’s offices or national human rights institutions to verify and follow up on conditions involving the exercise of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Member States.
• Preparing specific and thematic reports, as well as an annual report on the situation regarding the right to freedom of thought and expression in the Americas, which will be considered by the full Inter-American Commission for its approval and inclusion in its Annual Report to the General Assembly.
The Special Rapporteur’s annual reports can be accessed here.
The Special Rapporteur’s mandate includes collecting and recording violations of the right to freedom of expression in the OAS. PEN Centres can assist in the fulfilment of this mandate by submitting information and highlighting urgent cases to the Special Rapporteur. Click here for contact details of the Office of the Special Rapporteur.
PEN at the OAS
PEN International have lobbied the OAS to protect human rights and freedom of expression. In 2012, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, in response to Ecuador-led efforts to impose ‘reforms’ which would render them essentially incapable of carrying out their missions.
The PEN Congress put out a call to PEN Centres to lobby OAS member states to reject the proposals. We contacted newspapers internationally and made a public statement of our position. Fortunately the OAS voted against the reforms, in favour of keeping a strong and independent human rights mechanism. Read more about this story here.
PEN American Centre and other PEN centres throughout the Americas have since been campaigning to ensure the IACHR remains free of undue influence from member states.
Impunity in Honduras: PEN writers testify before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Honduras: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged to protect journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado