Center for Law and Democracy

The HRF-CLD promotes legal scholarship focused on international human rights and democracy law.

Promoting a More Protective Standard for Freedom of Speech

“Speaking Freely” is a comparative legal research project of the HRF-Center for Law and Democracy that seeks to better inform decision makers around the world and the global public about the value of a high free speech standard.The research project will first track the ancient origins of the offenses of “incitement” and “defamation of public officials,” their evolution in the Middle Ages, and their adoption as legal provisions by European nations and their former colonies. Then, the project will study the evolution of the U.S. First Amendment free speech standard and the rationales behind it, while charting the pervasive misuse of incitement and official defamation laws by democratic and non-democratic governments around the world.The project will study, compare, and disseminate landmark U.S. court opinions in the evolution of the broad protections guaranteed under the First Amendment juxtaposed with different speech-restricting laws enforced in both modern-day authoritarian states and liberal democracies around the world.“Speaking Freely” is made possible thanks to a grant by the John Templeton Foundation.Panel Discussions

  • The Awakening of China's Human Rights Movements. The panel featured human rights lawyer and visiting fellow at New York University Teng Biao; pro-democracy activist and Tiananmen Square survivor Yang Jianli; author and civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng; and independent journalist and feminist Lü Pin.
  • See pictures of the panel here.


  • Amicus curiae brief submitted to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in June 2014, on the case of Granier et al (Radio Caracas Televisión, “RCTV”) v. Venezuela. The HRF-Center for Law and Democracy asked the Court to settle the Inter-American standard for speech protection in cases where States prohibit speech in application of the international law prohibition of speech that constitutes incitement to violence or racial hatred.
  • Read amicus curiae brief here.

Working Papers

  • Instigación Pública y Libertad de Expresión en Venezuela, by Antonio Canova González and Luis Alfonso Herrera Orellana
  • Read early draft here.
  • Proper Implementation of the Incitement Prohibition under International Law, by Javier El-Hage, Centa B. Rek and Roberto González
  • Read early draft here.
  • Incitement and Defamation of Public Officials under the First Amendment, by Joy Jiao
  • Read early draft here.
  • Difamación criminal y desacato en América (Spanish), by Alejandro Gutiérrez
  • Read early draft here.
  • The Leviathan's Thin Skin, by William Han
  • Read early draft here.

Compendium of Incitement and Official Defamation Laws

  • Incitement Laws
  • Incitement laws in the Americas
  • See early draft on incitement laws in democracies here.
  • See early draft on incitement laws in competitive authoritarian regimes here.
  • See early draft on incitement laws in fully authoritarian regimes here.
  • Incitement laws in Europe and post-Soviet state.
  • See early draft on incitement laws in democracies here.
  • See early draft on incitement laws in competitive authoritarian regimes here.
  • See early draft on incitement laws in fully authoritarian regimes here.
  • Incitement statutes and case law in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • See early draft here.
  • Incitement statutes and case law in Asia.
  • See early draft here.
  • Official Defamation Laws
  • Official defamation laws in the Americas.
  • See early draft on criminal defamation here.
  • See early draft on contempt or "desacato" laws here.
  • See early draft on repealed contempt or "desacato" laws here.
  • See early draft on defamation of public institutions here.
  • See early draft on the crime of offending national symbols here.
  • Official defamation statutes and case law in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • See early draft here.
  • Official defamation statutes and case law in Asia.
  • See early draft here.
  • Preliminary Observations on Incitement and Official Defamation Laws and Cases.
  • See preliminary observations on laws and cases in Asia here.
  • See preliminary observations on laws and cases in the Middle East and North Africa here.
  • See preliminary observations on laws and cases in the Americas here.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

The Responsibility to Protect (or R2P) is an international legal doctrine adopted in 2005 by the United Nations in the wake of genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. The policy obligates the international community to use diplomatic and humanitarian means to help governments to protect their citizens, and to use coercive tactics—diplomatic, legal, economic, and as a last resort, military—in order to stop mass atrocities. In spring 2011, R2P became the legal basis invoked by NATO forces under the mandate of the U.N. Security Council for intervening in Libya to prevent crimes against humanity and war crimes.In November 2011, HRF announced the publication of The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Time, published by the Oxford University Press and co-sponsored by HRF-CLD. Prefaced by HRF then-chairman Václav Havel and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Responsibility to Protect is a collection of articles by scholars, diplomats, and human rights activists. Edited by international legal experts Irwin Cotler and Jared Genser, the book provides a comprehensive overview of how R2P developed and how it should be applied to current and future humanitarian crises.The book is available on Amazon.

HRF’s legal department researches and publishes international law reports, petitions, and amicus curiae briefs that focus on civil and political rights. HRF’s thorough reports carefully weigh state actions against international legal standards to expose human rights violations conducted by authoritarian regimes.The Case of Waleed Abu al-Khair

Amicus Curiae Brief for the Inter-American CourtIn June 2014, HRF filed an amicus curiae brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACourtHR) in the case of Granier et al (Radio Caracas Televisión, “RCTV”) v. Venezuela. As submitted in HRF’s amicus curiae brief, the September 2015 decision by the IACourtHR gave full evidentiary value to the numerous statements made by several high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan government, including statements made by the late Hugo Chávez, as evidence of the real motives behind the shutdown of RCTV.

The Case of Oswaldo Payá

White Paper in Response to Call for Submission of Information by UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression

Media Crackdown in Kazakhstan

The Case of Miguel Angel Hernandez Souquett

The Case of Maria Lourdes Afiuni Mora

Report on the State of the Independence of the Judiciary in Venezuela

Pakistan’s Failure to Protect Women from Violence: The Case of Mukhtar Mai

Russia’s Violation of the Right to Freedom of Expression: The Case of Pussy Riot

Pakistan Report to UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women

The Case of Emilio Palacio Urrutia

The Case of Francisco José Gómez Nadal and María Pilar Chato Carral HRF published the following documents following the arbitrary detention and expulsion of two foreign journalists and human rights defenders in Panama.

Rubén González: Venezuelan union leader persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of association

Amicus Curiae Brief for the Inter-American Court In February 2011, HRF filed an amicus curiae brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Leopoldo López v. Venezuela. HRF asked the Court to ratify the standard set in Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, under which the state may deprive a person of their political rights only after that individual is convicted as the result of a criminal trial according to due process. The September 2011 decision of the Court determined that the disqualification of López Mendoza violated his political rights under Article 23 of the Convention.

Oswaldo Álvarez Paz: Venezuelan presidential candidate imprisoned for criticizing government

Working Paper on the Democracy Clause Working Paper on the inter-american system for the protection of democracy.

The Facts and the Law Behind the Democratic Crisis of Honduras Violations to the Inter-American Democratic Charter by OAS officials and to the Honduran constitution by government officials.

Gustavo Azócar: Venezuelan journalist persecuted for exercising freedom of expression and the press

Political Violence in Bolivia Escalation of political violence in Bolivia between government opponents and supporters.

Arbitrary Detention of Guadalupe Llori The HRF issues a complaint against the Ecuadorian government to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and calls for the immediate release of political prisoner Guadalupe Llori.

Marta Colomina: Venezuelan journalist a target of violence and threats

Communal Justice in Bolivia Subversion of due process and legalization of mob rule under proposed Bolivian constitution.

Alberto Federico Ravell: Attack on news channel Globovisión by the Venezuelan government

Yon Goicoechea: Venezuelan dissident student leader persecuted for peaceful protest organization

Francisco Usón: Political prisoner and prisoner of conscience of the Venezuelan government Retired general and former minister of finance is incarcerated for expressing opinion on TV.

Fort Mara: Eight soldiers detained and burned in suspicious fire Contradicting reports and incomplete investigation have led to impunity - two soldiers have died, one in highly suspicious circumstances.

José Humberto Quintero: Victim of physical and psychological torture Arrested without an issued warrant, Quintero was subjected to torture and has been awaiting trial for 22 months.

Luis Figueroa: Victim of physical torture Illegally taken from the prison and tortured by military intelligence.

Honduran Democracy Crisis

On March 9, 2010, HRF published a 300-page legal report entitled, The Facts and the Law behind the Democratic Crisis of Honduras 2009-2010. The report has two parts that cover all relevant events between March 23, 2009, and January 27, 2010.Part One of HRF's legal report analyzed whether President Zelaya’s premature termination was in accordance with Honduran Law. The general conclusion of this part was that both his expatriation to Costa Rica by the armed forces, as well as the removal from office by Congress that ensued, were unconstitutional. After a detailed analysis of the steps that should be followed in the case of a presidential criminal trial in Honduras, Part One also found that the Honduras Supreme Court could have used its constitutional powers to successfully try, suspend, and, eventually, remove President Zelaya from office—particularly under criminal charges for abuse of authority—but chose instead to validate the unconstitutional actions taken against Zelaya by Congress and the armed forces. This part includes a detailed review of the legal evolution of presidential trial provisions since the 1825 Honduran constitution and a comparative legal analysis of impeachment trials under 17 different Latin American constitutions.Part Two examined whether the actions taken by the OAS, before, during, and after June 28, were in accordance with the OAS Charter or the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The general conclusion of this part was that, throughout the democratic crisis in Honduras, the OAS acted as an international agent of the executive power of Honduras, rather than an organization with the duty to promote and protect democracy in its member states. Before reaching this conclusion, the legal report evaluated in detail all actions by the OAS in response to the three anti-democratic events that took place in Honduras throughout the crisis: (1) the erosion of democracy carried out by President Zelaya from March 23 to June 28; (2) the coup d’état carried out by the armed forces in the morning of June 28; and (3) the unconstitutional removal effected by Congress —also referred to as impeachment coup— that took place later that same day. According to international democracy law, each one of these anti-democratic events should have triggered the application of the democracy clause by OAS organs.HRF’s 300-page legal report was considered as evidence by the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR-H). HRF’s report was quoted numerous times in the 800-page final report published by the CVR-H in June 2011, and the commission based its main conclusions on HRF’s report. For example, in perhaps the most important paragraph of its entire report (at page 202), the CVR-H stated:The commissioners (…) agree with the analysis made by the Human Rights Foundation, in defining what happened in Honduras as a coup d’état, [namely that] a coup d’état would refer to a scenario with the following four concurring elements: “first, that the victim of the coup is the president or other civil authority with full control of executive power in that country; second, that the perpetrator of the coup has used violence or coercion to remove the victim from his post; third, that the action or actions that constitute the coup are abrupt or sudden and rapid; and fourth, that this action occurs in clear violation of the constitutional procedure to remove the president, or chief executive.” In the case of Honduras, all of the four aforementioned elements were present.Related Documents:The Facts and the Law Behind the Democratic Crisis of HondurasThe Facts and the Law Behind the Democratic Crisis of Honduras (Spanish)Letter to Eduardo Stein, Coordinator of the Truth Commission of Honduras (English)Letter to Eduardo Stein, Coordinator of the Truth Commission of Honduras (Spanish)

Russia: Free Pussy Riot

Pussy Riot was formed in 2011 in response to then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's decision to run for president for a third time. The feminist punk rock group is made up of ten women between the ages of 20 and 33 who wear eccentric costumes with brightly colored balaclavas, tights, and short skirts. The band campaigns for individual rights, democracy, and reform of the Russian justice system.On February 21, 2012, three members of Pussy Riot performed a “Punk Prayer” in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church, which openly endorsed Putin as he campaigned for presidential reelection. As a result, in March 2012, the three women—Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevich— were arrested and charged with the crime of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” On August 17, 2012, they were found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison.HRF published a report on the case and states that “Russia failed to establish that its interference with the defendants’ freedom of expression—the arrest, confinement, criminal trial, conviction and two-year prison sentence—was prescribed by law, pursued a legitimate aim, and was necessary to achieve that aim.” The report concludes: “Russia has violated the European standard of freedom of expression that it is required to comply with under the European Convention on Human Rights.”Related Content:Document: The Case of Pussy RiotVideo: Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a Conversation with Pussy Riot

Ending Violence Against Pakistani Women

On December 22, 2011, HRF submitted a petition and legal report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women requesting that she send an allegation letter to the government of Pakistan regarding its failure to exercise due diligence in the case of Mukhtar Mai, a Pakistani human rights activist and victim of a violent gang rape in 2002.On June 22, 2002, Mai’s brother Abdul Shakoor, on the suspicion that he had illicit relations with a Mastoi woman named Salma, was abducted by three Mastoi men, sodomized in a sugarcane field, and taken to the residence of Abdul Khaliq, Salma’s brother. A panchayat (local council) was convened that same day and a decision was made that Shakoor would marry Salma and Mai would marry Khaliq in order to settle the dispute. These terms were not agreed upon however and soon thereafter several of those present from Mai’s tribe left the panchayat. It was then conveyed to Mai that if she came to the panchayat and asked for her brother’s forgiveness, he would be pardoned. According to Mai, when she arrived at the panchayat, approximately 200-250 people were present. Khaliq and three other men forcibly took her to a nearby hut and gang raped her. An hour later she was released and appeared, half-naked, in front of the villagers. In April 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted all but one of the accused in the case.HRF’s individual complaint and accompanying legal report conclude that, in the case of Mai, the government of Pakistan had violated the international standard of due diligence owed by states to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crimes of violence against women as well as compensate the victims of such crimes. Pakistan breached its duty of due diligence by failing to protect Mai from sanctioned violence by the panchayat, by failing to effectively and fairly investigate Mai’s case, by failing to properly prosecute those responsible, and by failing to sufficiently compensate Mai for the violence perpetrated against her.Related Documents:Pakistan’s Failure to Protect Woment from Violence: The Case of Mukhtar MaiThe Due Diligence Obligation to Prevent Violence Against Women: Pakistan

Government Crackdown in Kazakhstan

Commemorating the first anniversary of the Zhanaozen killings of December 2011--in which at least 15 civilians were murdered by police who opened fire on unarmed protestors--HRF published an open letter to the president of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, requesting that he release imprisoned opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov and stop the government's crackdown on independent media, including the newspapers Respublika and Vzglyad and the TV stations K-plyus and Stan TV.The letter also calls on President Nazarbayev to investigate credible allegations of torture. HRF finds that by failing to exclude evidence obtained by means of torture in the 37 oil workers’ trials following the massacre, Kazakhstan has violated Articles 12 and 15 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.HRF considers that the arbitrary imprisonment of opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov and the crackdown on independent media outlets lack legal bases under both international law and domestic law in Kazakhstan. They are wrongful prosecutions aimed at stifling dissent and media criticism of government actions.UPDATE: [July 31, 2013] In a legal report, HRF concludes that the court decisions that banned all publications, broadcasts, and dissemination of information by the newspapers Respublika and Vzglyad and the TV stations K-plyus and Stan TV, along with all associated websites, violates the right to freedom of expression of these media outlets, as well as the rights of the individuals publishing their opinions through them and the rights of the public to receive such information and opinions.Related Content:Document: Media Crackdown in KazakhstanVideos:Bolat Atabayev - Kazakhstan's Human Rights DesertAlexey Tikhonov - Kazakhstan's Great Facade

Venezuela: Uphold Political Rights of Leopoldo López

On February 25, 2011, HRF filed an amicus curiae brief with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Leopoldo López Mendoza v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. López, a popularly elected mayor, was disqualified without due process from running again for office.Leopoldo López Mendoza was elected by popular vote on August 4, 2000, as mayor of the municipality of Chacao, state of Miranda, and reelected to the same position on October 31, 2004, for a four-year term. López Mendoza remained in that position until November 2008, when he aspired to run for mayor of Caracas.On 2004, two administrative procedures were instructed to determine liabilities against López Mendoza. As a result of these two investigations, the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic imposed two administrative sanctions, resolutions No. 01-00-000206 of August 24, 2005 and No. 01-00-235 of September 26, 2005, that disqualified him from holding new public positions for three and six years, respectively.HRF’s amicus curiae considered that, according to the ordinary meaning of Article 23, section 2 and the travaux preparatoires of the American Convention on Human Rights, no one can be deprived of their political rights (active and passive right to vote) or have them suspended, unless this is the result of a final judgment, which, in turn, is the result of a judicial process that meets the guarantees of due process.Related Content:Document: Amicus Curiae Brief for the Inter-American CourtVideo: Leopoldo López - All Rights for all People

Ecuador: End Persecution of Journalist Emilio Palacio

Emilio Palacio Urrutia is an Ecuadorean journalist, columnist, opinion editor, and head of the editorial page of El Universo newspaper who, along with three executives of the paper, was accused, tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in prison for writing and publishing an opinion piece critical of President Rafael Correa and his government. HRF has called on Ecuador’s highest court to revert the conviction against Palacio and the three executives of El Universo.In its legal report, HRF concludes that, with these actions, the Ecuadorean state violated the prohibition against the restriction of freedom of expression through the application of official defamation and desacato laws. Likewise, the Ecuadorean state violated the prohibition against the imposition of disproportionate civil sanctions for exercising the right to freedom of expression.UPDATES:[February 8, 2012] Palacio files for political asylum in the United States.[February 16, 2012] Ecuador's highest court upholds the conviction against Palacio.[February 27, 2012] President Correa announces that he will grant a pardon to Palacio. HRF's report is filed as evidence by Palacio’s attorneys in the U.S. as basis for his political asylum claim.[August 7, 2012] Palacio is granted asylum. His attorney thanks HRF:“Your [communications] and report were very well written and comprehensive. They were instrumental to this case… Not only did I cite extensively your reports in my filings to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, but I also submitted full copies of the report along with the asylum application and other evidence. I thought you published one of the most thorough legal analyses of the matter I’ve seen so far.”[August 31, 2012] Palacio is eventually pardoned by President Correa, and is granted asylum in the United States.Related Content:Document: The Case of Emilio Palacio UrrutiaVideo: Nicolás Pérez - The $42 Million Dollar Op-ed

Venezuela: Free Oswaldo Álvarez Paz

Oswaldo Álvarez Paz is a Venezuelan politician and public intellectual who was arbitrarily imprisoned after he criticized President Hugo Chávez’s government on live television. HRF has designated Álvarez Paz a prisoner of conscience of the Venezuelan government.On March 8, 2010, Álvarez Paz, the former governor of Zulia, participated in a televised interview where he criticized the human rights situation in Venezuela and discussed alleged ties between the Venezuelan government, drug-trafficking cartels, the Spanish terrorist organization ETA (Euskadi Ta Askatasuna), and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). A public prosecutor formally pressed charges for the crimes of “conspiracy,” “public instigation to commit crimes,” and “dissemination of false information.” After 51 days under preventive imprisonment, Álvarez Paz was released conditionally, pending trial.Through its report, HRF establishes that the actions carried out by the Venezuelan authorities in charge of Álvarez Paz’s accusation, detention, and preventive imprisonment violate the international human rights legal standard on freedom of expression, established by Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Venezuela in 1977, and by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, which Venezuela is bound to follow.UPDATE: [July 13, 2011] The 21st Trial Court of the Caracas Metropolitan Area found Álvarez Paz guilty of “spreading false information” and sentenced him to two years in prison. Álvarez Paz is serving his sentence on parole.Related Documents:Legal Report: Oswaldo Alvarez PazLegal Report: Oswaldo Alvarez Paz (Spanish)

Panama: Revert Expulsion of Journalists

Francisco José (Paco) Gómez Nadal and María Pilar Chato Carral are two Spanish citizens who were detained, arrested, and arbitrarily expelled from Panama for engaging in journalism critical of the Panamanian government and for conducting legitimate activities as human rights defenders. HRF called on the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, to allow both journalists to return to Panama.On February 26, 2011, Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato —both journalists and volunteers at the human rights organization, Human Rights Everywhere (HREV)—were arrested while monitoring a small demonstration of the Ngäbe and Buglé indigenous peoples protesting against reforms made to the Mineral Resources Code of Panama. The arrest took place when Gómez Nadal, who was visibly wearing his HREV credentials, started filming a group of 40 police officers as they advanced to arrest demonstrators blocking traffic on a street in the vicinity of Panama’s National Assembly. Two days later, the National Immigration Service of Panama (SNM) ordered the “voluntary repatriation” of both Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato.In its report on the case HRF establishes that the “voluntary repatriation” of Gómez Nadal and Pilar Chato took place without due process guarantees and violated the prohibition of arbitrary expulsion of aliens, established in Article 22.6 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Related Documents:Letter to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (English)Letter to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli (Spanish)The Case of Francisco Jose Gomez Nadal and Maria Pilar Chato CarralThe Case of Francisco Jose Gomez Nadal and Maria Pilar Chato Carral (Spanish)