Catalina Botero is the Colombian in front of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR. It has been six long years during which she has continued in her efforts to protect the right to information, which she considers sacred and cornerstone of a healthy democracy. That effort, however, has earned her serious confrontations with governments in the region, particularly in Ecuador and Venezuela, where she is almost considered public enemy number one. In an interview with TIME, Botero takes stock of her management. While recognizing breakthroughs in some countries, argues that several free press is in “critical condition”. Despite being one of the youngest Commission rapporteurs, she has generated much controversy.
Why is this office necessary?
Because the right to freedom of thought and expression is not only a fundamental human right, but a guarantee for the protection of other rights. Because free press is essential to control the abuses of power, human rights violations and corruption. Because sometimes all you have is your right to speak, to take to the streets to demonstrate your interests and needs. Because without freedom of expression there cannot be a true public deliberation, and without deliberation no participation or democracy is possible.
And how is this democratic health? What worries you the most?
Organized crime and its harmful alliances with some local authorities is the main regional challenge to freedom of expression. Taking conservative estimates, since 2000, more than 220 journalists have been killed for reasons possibly related to the exercise of their profession, and hundreds more have been threatened, attacked or displaced. This, in most cases, makes the stories that have never be investigated unknown to societies that do not have the information to act promptly. Usually, these crimes are not investigated, and thus impunity and self-censorship is required and further research is generated. Moreover, some states have laws and autocratic policies promoted, creating a difficult situation for the exercise of freedom of expression.
What states are you referring to?
As for violence, to countries like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil or Honduras, the cumulative figures of violence against journalists are worrying. In this issue, we should highlight the mechanism of protection of journalists in Colombia and the creation of mechanisms in other states. A violence with high level of impunity for these crimes, although the states have sufficient mechanisms to prosecute those who did it. This task, long-delayed, should be a priority if you really want to face serious threats such as that posed by organized crime.
On the institutional weakness in countries like Venezuela or Ecuador, critics of government policies lack collateral to do so without fear of prosecution. The press, in particular, is in a critical condition.