There was a fair bit of chest-thumping by the Government recently over Reporters without Borders' ranking of Jamaica as the leading country for press freedom in the Western Hemisphere and 13th globally.
The Simpson Miller administration interpreted the rating as a vindication of its own commitment to freedom and democracy and currency in which it can trade.
This newspaper does not begrudge the Government its celebration and/or sense of achievement. We, however, remind the administration of the susceptibility of democracy to corrosive tendencies in the absence of vigilance.
It is in this context that we expect democratic governments, even when discomfited by media, to embrace the free, energetic press, and periodic peer reviews, as allies in the maintenance and advancement of democracy. This, essentially, is the commitment made by Jamaica, and other countries in this hemisphere, by membership of the human-rights regimes of the Organisation of American States, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
THREATS TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
There are, however, reasons for Jamaica, and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), most of whose members have long embraced democracy and freedom of expression, to be vigilant against, if not worried about, threats to these institutions.
Over the past year or so, diplomats and technocrats at the OAS have been reviewing the statutes and protocols of the IACHR with the stated aim of improving how these institutions work and enhancing access to them. Unfortunately, there has been little to no public attention to these issues among the CARICOM members of the OAS, including Jamaica.
Later this month, there is special meeting at which the proposed reforms could become firmly cast, some with potential negative effect to the protection of human rights free expression. Among the most glaring of these relate to the Office of the Special Rapporteur, created in 1997 as a watchdog of freedom of expression in the hemisphere.
That office reviews and comments on issues within its purview, as well as issues annual reports on the state of free expression in the hemisphere. It thus provides a layer of insulation for a free press and others engaged in protecting freedom of expression against encroaching governments and those who would behave with impunity.
A recommendation that the special rapporteur no longer produce its annual reports, but rather provide a summary on the issues in the IACHR's general report, would clearly impair the stature of the office and the effectiveness of its work.
Then there is the proposal to remove the office's ability to raise its own funds, or to prevent donors from earmarking contributions to specific projects. The argument, presumably, is that this system weakens the independence of the office, potentially forcing the special rapporteur to concentrate on issues/projects that are in the interest of donors. The danger here is the Office of the Special Rapporteur being starved of funds to do its work - to the detriment of freedom of expression.
Freedom is not singular. Its erosion anywhere holds dangers everywhere, declared commitments notwithstanding. That is why we expect Jamaica to first rally its partners in CARICOM, and its friends elsewhere in the hemisphere, against these actions. They pose dangers to our concept of democracy.
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