Freedom of Expression

Press Release 43/01


The murder of four Colombian journalists in less than 15 days highlights the seriousness of violence against the press and shows that journalists are extremely unsafe in their work of reporting to society. Dr. Santiago A. Canton, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR expressed his “absolute condemnation of these crimes that put the right to freedom of expression and information for all Colombian people in serious jeopardy.”  

According to reports, Pablo Emilio Parra Castañeda was shot twice in the head and killed on June 27, 2001 in Tolima. The 50-year old journalist directed the radio program Planadas Cultural Estéreo and was president of the local chapter of the Red Cross. Various sources attribute the murder to Colombian armed dissident groups. The Office of the Rapporteur also received information on the July 4, 2001 murder of journalist Arquímedes Arias Henao, also in Tolima. The 39 year old was an announcer at the Armonía FM Estéreo radio station in the municipality of Palocabildo, Tolima. Reports indicate that an unknown person entered the station and shot him three times. The third victim was José Ubiel Vásquez, director at the La Voz de la Selva radio station in Florencia. He was shot twice on July 6, 2001 by two men waiting for him outside the station. Finally, Jorge Enrique Urbano, age 53, was killed on July 8, 2001 in the port of Buenaventura. He was the director of Emisora Mar Estéreo and held a news program that strongly criticized the lack of safety in the city. Urbano was shot four times.  

According to reports, the four crimes are related to the journalistic activities of the victims. The Office of the Rapporteur was also informed that journalists at La Voz de la Selva are concerned, since they have been declared a military target by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and employees at the station have been receiving threats for several months. The Office of the Rapporteur feels, and the IACHR has confirmed, that the mere expression of ideas cannot be considered a hostile act that would make journalists legitimate military targets.  

Murdering journalists is the most brutal form of attack on freedom of expression. In its recent annual report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression reported on the murders of seven journalists in the Hemisphere, three of whom were Colombian. The Office has also received information on other journalists killed in Colombia, whose murders are still being investigated to determine if they are linked to their work in journalism.  

The American Convention on Human Rights, to which Colombia is a party, stipulates that States have the duty to prevent, investigate, and punish any violation of the rights enshrined in the Convention. In the case of journalists, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has maintained that failure to conduct a complete investigation into the murder of a journalist and punish the perpetrators and masterminds is particularly serious because of its impact on society. Impunity for these crimes not only frightens other journalists, but all citizens, making them scared to report assaults, abuses, and all types of illicit acts. 

The Special Rapporteur urges the Colombian State to immediately conduct a serious, effective investigation into the aforementioned murders. He also urges Colombian authorities to make every effort to ensure that these crimes do not go unpunished and seek ways to provide effective protection to all those in the media so they may fulfill their valuable work of reporting to society.  

Finally, the Special Rapporteur recalls the provisions of principle 9 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, “[t]he murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences and to punish their perpetrators.”    

Santiago A. Canton
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression in the Americas
July 10, 2001
Washington, D.C.