Call for Reform in Honduras, Malawi, and USA, Ahead of UN Human Rights Review
In May 2015 the human rights records of Honduras, Malawi, and USA will come under review for the second time under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the United Nations (UN).
Honduras’ journalists and writers are working in a climate of rising violence, impunity and fear generated by the infiltration of the state by organized crime, increased militarization and enfeebled institutions The ability of writers to investigate and inform is increasingly restricted, while the cultural sector is stagnating due to a lack of long-term policy and investment. Despite some positive steps taken by the state, many of the areas of concern highlighted at the last review in 2010 persist or have worsened. Moreover, a large number of the advances praised at that time have been seriously undermined.
Attacks on journalists have risen sharply, including both murders and non-fatal, violent attacks. At least 28 journalists have been killed since the last UPR and at least 46 since 2003, most working for TV and/or radio. Some have been slain despite having been granted protection measures, including by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Convictions have only been obtained for four of these murders, with the remaining 42 unresolved—an impunity rate of 91 percent. Even in cases with convictions, justice is only partial and none of the masterminds have been prosecuted.
Read the full UPR submission here.
In 2011 Malawi accepted two UPR recommendations to bring its legislation into line with international freedom of expression obligations. However Malawi’s Sedition and Criminal Defamation laws, as well as delays in implementing the Access to Information Bill and an adequate E-Bill, continue to restrict freedom of expression and present considerable challenges to journalists. For example in March 2012, President Bingu wa Mutharika’s Press Officer issued a statement to the press, warning those who insult the President, to instigate panic in the nation and damage donor relations will risk being arrested or fined. A member of the President’s party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was also quoted saying that the Nation and the Daily Times newspapers had not been writing positively about the president or the DPP and any civil servant seen reading it or advertising in it would be suspected.
The body responsible for media broadcasting licenses, the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) lacks political independence which hinders freedom of expression. It is funded by the government and led by a presidential appointee. A 2014 election monitoring report of the media, by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), also highlighted that the media was biased, giving significantly more coverage to the ruling People’s Party presidential candidate Joyce Banda than the other 11 presidential candidates.
In July 2011 anti-government demonstrations took place and protestors exercising freedom of expression were subject to excessive use of force by security forces, resulting in 19 demonstrators being killed, and many others arrested. It is alleged that 8 journalists were specifically targeted by the police. Following the protests the government’s harassment and intimidation of dissident voices continued, resulting in a trend of self-censorship and a number of journalists going into hiding. Attacks and threats by State authorities against journalists continued in 2013.
There are several indigenous languages spoken in Malawi. The 2013 Education Act empowered the Minister of Education to choose any language as a medium of instruction in schools. The Minister established that English would be the sole language of instruction, replacing Chichewa and other local languages. PEN is concerned at the exclusion of mother languages in instruction as a child learns best in its mother tongue, especially at the early stage in education, and among linguistic minority groups.
In September 2014 the Supreme Court of Appeal gave MACRA authority to implement a new Consolidated ICT Regulatory Management System to monitor the performance of mobile-telephone companies more effectively. The move has generated privacy concerns given the capacity of the system to access the call records of users, and media professionals warned that their ability to keep sources confidential could be compromised. Additionally there are concerns that the government of Malawi monitors the social network accounts of private citizens for statements that display hostility towards, and defamation of, the president.
To read the UPR submission in full click here.
United States of America
U.S. intelligence agencies have been secretly acquiring and monitoring vast amounts of personal and sensitive communications and data around the world. Many of these surveillance operations violate the right to privacy, freedom of expression and other human rights.
Read the full UPR submission here.
PEN International’s Reports to the UN Universal Periodic Review
Honduras: Journalism In the Shadow of Impunity