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Colombia25 June 2002

Reporters without borders concerned over statements by future interior and justice minister on the reestablishment of a state of emergency

Reporters without borders is very concerned over statements made by Fernando Londoño, future interior and justice minister under elected president Alvaro Uribe Vélez. In a 21 June 2002 interview published in the daily "El Tiempo", Londoño said he was in favour of the reestablishment of a state of emergency in Colombia, as defined by the 1886 Constitution. This move would permit the government to restrict press freedom and the free distribution of news, in order to "secure public order".

Reporters without borders spoke out against the proposed restrictions. "Londoño’s proposals make us fear the worst as regards press freedom, when as of 7 August President Alvaro Uribe’s government takes office," stated RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "If the future interior and justice minister’s proposals are put into place, the Colombian government will become yet another enemy of press freedom in a country where unfortunately such enemies are not lacking," Ménard added.

Ménard argued that human rights are inalienable, in response to Londoño’s statement that "many rights will have to be suppressed given the deep crisis that is currently endangering the country’s institutions. One cannot say: I want a state of emergency but do not touch my fundamental rights." Reporters without borders also condemned the "perverse" arguments of Londoño, who explained: "Of course I have to restrict [these fundamental rights], precisely in order to save them". "Journalists have to understand that they will have to face certain limitations, as do other journalists all over the world," Londoño added. Reporters without borders noted that, "in Colombia, as in the United States, where the government is committed to fighting international terrorism, the legitimate defense of citizens’ security and their rights cannot justify the limitation of these rights."

Finally, Londoño called for restrictions on the Constitutional Court’s power to impose a state of emergency. "[The Constitutional Court] will have to be told that this is the president’s domain," he noted. Reporters without borders is concerned by this attitude. "The Constitutional Court, like press freedom, is an indispensable counterweight in any democracy," Ménard recalled. "The fact that Mr. Uribe Vélez was elected in the first round should not give his administration the impression that they hold all the power," Reporters without borders concluded.

Uribe was elected to the presidency on 26 May and will take office on 7 August. He has designated Londoño as his future interior and justice minister.

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