» "School for Judges": Lessons in Freedom of Information and Expression from (and for) Latin America's courtroom...
04.06.2018 - UNESCO Montevideo Office

"School for Judges": Lessons in Freedom of Information and Expression from (and for) Latin America's courtrooms" The Story.

Available online, the publication presents the UNESCO programme that has trained judges throughout the Latin American region and highlights the transformative trend of this capacity-building initiative on freedom of expression, access to information and protection of journalists.

Written by Bill Orme, former New York Times journalist, the document "School for Judges: Lessons on Freedom of Information and Expression from and for Courts in Latin America” presents the work of UNESCO to train judges and judicial operators throughout the region.

By means of interviews with actors involved in the initiative, Orme highlights different angles of the project that, in just a few years, has become the most ambitious judicial training programme ever occurred in Latin America: more than 600 judges and other professionals of the government have participated in face-to-face workshops and another 7000 in on-line training platforms.

"It's a revolutionary movement, in the best sense, and we need to persist in providing this kind of training and support. To consolidate democracy, the judiciary is key. Judges often have the last word, "said about the initiative Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States, on the initiative, whose office is a key partner of this programme from its beginning.

"School for Judges: Lessons on Freedom of Information and Expression from and for Courts in Latin America" underlines the editions of the online course "International Legal Framework of Freedom of Expression, Access to Public Information and Protection of journalists ", which already include the participation of approximately 7 thousand judicial operators.

The invitation to conduct the online course is reiterated in an audiovisual by different judicial actors: Ileana Guillén Rodríguez, Director of the Judicial School "Edgar Cervantes Villalta" of Costa Rica and Director of the Judicial Training Center for Central America and the Caribbean; David Ordóñez Solís, Magistrate, Doctor of Law and member of the Network of Experts in European Union Law of the General Council of the Judicial Power of Spain; Claudia Levin, Academic Secretary of the Judicial School of Argentina; Isabelino Galeano, Executive Director of the Judicial School of Paraguay; Matías Vial, Coordinator of the Enabling Programme of the Judicial Academy of Chile; Gervasia Valenzuela Sosa, Director of the National School of the Judiciary of the Dominican Republic; Salvador Mondragón, General Director of the Institute of the Federal Judiciary of Mexico and Sergio Alberto Palacio, Academic Director of the Judicial School of the Judicial Council of the Judicial Power of the Nation of Argentina.

Ten milestones of the UNESCO training initiative, together with the Ibero-American Judicial Summit, are presented, focusing on legal principles and precedents for freedom of expression and access to information:

1. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UNESCO and the Ibero-American Judicial Summit to strengthen cooperation in the area of freedom of expression, access to information, transparency and security for journalists.

2. The Ibero-American Network of Judicial Schools (a subsidiary of the Ibero-American Judicial Summit) agreed to include Freedom of Expression, Access to Public Information and the Safety of Journalists as central issues in its "Training of Trainers" programme.

3. The presidents of the courts unanimously approved to continue the association with UNESCO and the Ibero-American Summit for these training programmes.

4. The Summit group also decided to align its activities with the UN 2030 Agenda, especially SDG 16, which advocates the promotion of "peaceful and inclusive societies", the protection of "fundamental freedoms" and the "universal access to justice."

5. The highest judicial authorities formally endorsed the MOOC "International legal framework on freedom of expression, access to information and the safety of journalists" and unanimously recommended that its member states adopt the course.

6. The Presidents of the Supreme Courts recognized the "Political-pedagogical Guide on the incorporation of the topic of freedom of expression and access to public information in the training of judicial officers" as relevant to the mission of the Ibero-American Summit and recommended that Member States of the Summit adopt the guide.

7. In March 2017, in Santo Domingo, the Schools of Judges of Ibero-America approved the "Toolkit for Judicial Schools trainers on freedom of expression, access to public information, transparency and security of journalists"

8. In April 2017, UNESCO and the Ibero-American Platform of Audiovisual Media Service Regulators agreed to create a similar training programme for media regulators.

9. In September 2017, UNESCO and the Colombian National Police announced a training initiative for the country's security forces on freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

10. At its most recent biennial meeting, held in Ecuador, in April 2018, the Ibero-American Judicial Summit formally supported and encouraged the use of the Toolkit, a UNESCO publication for the training of trainers of judges on freedom of expression, access to information and, safety of journalists.

"We have to overcome what we inherited from a system that was completely autocratic, with everything decided and ordered from above. We are in a new era now, where we have to learn how to become a democracy, a true democratic republic. Everything has to change – it requires a completely new mentality.” Carlos Ortiz Barrios, a Paraguayan judge who defines UNESCO's initiatives as "very helpful" to defend and enforce basic civil liberties such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press. In this same line, Pedro Mayor, Paraguayan judge, points out that "Now we have to ‘change the chip’ in our heads to think differently, to act democratically, and UNESCO is giving us tools to do this.”

Almost as important as the courses themselves, the publication highlights the connections made from the courses among the participants. These colleagues and experts continue to confer and exchange ideas on specific national, regional and thematic issues on freedom of expression, access to information and protection of journalists. An example is the WhatsApp group "Lawyers of the Americas" with around 70 active members in a dozen countries that uses the application to keep in touch with former participants who share information about new cases and legal issues in their respective countries. "We are there for each other, to help and support each other, in a diverse group with a lot of experience. We are dealing with matters that are highly sensitive, in different countries with a variety of laws in these areas." Said Sandra Flores, lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Honduras, who joined the group online after taking the course of UNESCO.

Finally, the expectations of the positive impact of the initiative on the democratic societies of the region, as well as on the institutions that train judges, judges, prosecutors and other justice operators, are highlighted. Access the publication here.

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