Inter-American Commission: First ever hearing on SLAPPs in Latin America

Inter-American Commission: First ever hearing on SLAPPs in Latin America - Civic Space

Guatemala, 2019. Photo credit: ShutterPrice / Shutterstock

Last week, ARTICLE 19, together with human rights organisations and journalists from Latin America, organised a hearing on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) in Latin America at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Inter-American Commission). During the hearing, the Inter-American Commission heard testimonies, information, and recommendations about the growing prevalence of SLAPPs in the region. We hope that the hearing will inform future work at the Commission on SLAPPs and how they should be prevented and addressed. 

On 13 July, during its 187th session, the Inter-American Commission addressed the problem of SLAPPs in the region for the first time. SLAPPs are lawsuits typically initiated by politicians, public officials, wealthy business people, big companies, and public figures aiming to silence critical voices and stifle scrutiny and public debate. 

At the hearing, five journalists shared personal testimonies, illustrating the silencing effects of SLAPPs and their destructive impact on public debate. As a consequence of his public interest reporting, Mexican journalist Rodolfo Ruiz faces 22 civil lawsuits from public officials, amounting to more than $2 million USD. Peruvian journalist and TV correspondent Paola Ugaz has been criminally charged for her investigations into sexual abuse committed by a religious organisation, and faces five trials alongside accusations of money laundering and mercury smuggling. 

These testimonies demonstrated the serious threat that SLAPPs pose to freedom of expression in the region. As pointed out during the hearing, SLAPPs often escape the control of national courts because there is no legislation to prevent or sanction them. Therefore, ARTICLE 19 and partners asked the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Commissioners from the Inter-American Commission to join them in designing an integrated and coordinated strategy to address the problem of SLAPPs. Namely, we asked that they: 

  • Prepare a thematic report on prevalence and impact of SLAPPs in the regions to form basis for further recommendations;
  • Recognise the danger of SLAPPs in the region and provide clear normative guidance on what measures, legal and non-legal, should be adopted on SLAPPs at national levels; and
  • Establish a group of experts to develop draft regional standards on SLAPPs. 

At the hearing, ARTICLE 19 and partners announced the creation of a regional civil society group that will monitor SLAPPs in the region and will be the basis for the exchange of experience on the topic.

For additional information about SLAPPs, see ARTICLE 19 and Columbia University’s Freedom of Expression 2023 report examining different judicial responses to SLAPPs around the globe. 

Read the hearing summary (Spanish)