Herrera Ulloa v. Costa Rica
The facts submitted before the Court by the Commission concerned violations alleged to have been committed by the Costa Rican State by virtue of a 12 November 1999 conviction. That conviction arose out of publication by the newspaper 'La Nación' of a number of articles by journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa on 19, 20 and 21 May and 13 December 1995 that partially reproduced several articles from the Belgian press. The Belgian press reports had attributed certain illegal acts to Félix Przedborski, Costa Rica's honorary representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria.
The 12 November 1999 judgment, delivered by the Criminal Court of the First Judicial Circuit of San José, found Mr. Mauricio Herrera Ulloa guilty on four counts of publishing insults constituting defamation and ordered him to pay a fine; La Nación was ordered to publish the 'Now Therefore' portion of the court' judgment. The court also upheld the claim for civil damages. It found Mr. Mauricio Herrera Ulloa and La Nación jointly and severally liable and ordered them to pay a compensation for the moral damage caused by the articles carried in La Nación, and to pay court costs and personal damages as well. The judgment also ordered La Nación to remove the link at the 'La Nación Digital' website between the surname Przedborski and the impugned articles, and to create a link between those articles and the operative part of the court's judgment.
Mr. Herrera Ulloa's conviction meant that his name was entered into the Judiciary's Record of Convicted Felons. In addition to the foregoing, the Commission reported that on April 3, 2001, the Criminal Court of the First Judicial Circuit of San José issued an order demanding that Mr. Fernán Vargas Rohrmoser, legal representative of the 'La Nación' newspaper, pay the penalty the court imposed on that newspaper in the November 12, 1999 judgment, warning that failure to do so might constitute the crime of contempt of authority.
The Commission filed the application pursuant to Article 51 of the American Convention, for the Court to decide whether the State had violated Article 13 (Freedom of Thought and Expression), in combination with the obligations set forth in articles 1(1) (Obligation to Respect Rights) and 2 (Domestic Legal Effects) of the Convention, to the detriment of Mauricio Herrera Ulloa and Fernán Vargas Rohrmoser by its criminal conviction of Mr. Herrera Ulloa on four counts of publishing insults constituting defamation of a public official.
In the Court's consideration, Article 13 has two dimensions: the individual, which is realized through the right to express thoughts and ideas and the right to receive them; and the social dimension, a means to share ideas and information for mass communication among human beings. Both dimensions must be guaranteed simultaneously. The articles written by journalist Mauricio Herrera Ulloa involved both dimensions of freedom of expression and any restrictions on freedom of expression must be intended to serve some pressing social need. When faced with a number of alternatives, the one chosen must be the one least restrictive of the protected right; furthermore, the restriction must be proportionate to the interest that justifies it; and it is not enough for a restriction of a Convention-protected right to be useful to obtaining some legitimate end; rather, it must be necessary, which
means that it must be shown that it cannot reasonably be achieved through a less restrictive means.
The court found that '(...) the criminal laws on defamation, calumny and insult in Costa Rica serve a legitimate purpose; however, Article 13 of the Convention is violated when conduct involving public issues is penalized, as there is no pressing social need that justifies the criminal penalty. Enforcement of domestic privacy laws must conform to international standards, which require a proper
balance between protection of privacy and honor and protection of freedom of expression'.
Author Organisation: Inter-American Court of Human Rights