World Press Freedom Day
Earl Maucker, president of the Inter American Press Association
Editor y Senior Vice President of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
To put an end to violence and impunity
is a priority of ours
Miami, Florida (May 2, 2008)Violence continues to be the greatest obstacle to freedom of the press in the Americas. Since the last commemoration of World Press Freedom Day 20 journalists and three others working in the press have been murdered. The majority of these crimes 11 occurred in Mexico, the others in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay and the United States.
There are, however, some reasons from the point of view of legal proceedings for us to be optimistic. Of the some 85 cases of murder that the IAPA has been following up between May last year and this month 48 criminals were convicted or had their sentences upheld, as follows: 2 in Brazil; 14 in Chile; 3 in Costa Rica; 11 in Haiti; 2 in Honduras; 5 in Mexico, 6 in Peru and 5 in the Dominican Republic. Just a few days ago we also learned that the Colombian Attorney Generals Office has announced that it might reopen the case of the editor of El Espectador, Guillermo Cano Isaza, murdered in 1986, a case that the IAPA submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 1995. In addition, this week a former mayor was apprehended in that country after remaining at large since October last year, charged with the April 6, 2003 murder of José Emeterio Rivas.
Seeking to put an end to the impunity surrounding crimes against journalists has been an ongoing battle for the IAPA since we launched the Anti-Impunity Project in 1995. There has been some progress there is now greater attention being paid to the issue, as certain international documents on combating impunity show, among them the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organizations Resolution 120 of 1997. In Colombia, for example, the Penal Code was updated to increase the penalties for those committing violence against news men and women. There has also been the creation of special prosecutors offices and programs for the protection of the victims of violence. Similarly, press freedom organizations now more than ever are carrying out joint actions and making coordinated plans to tackle this problem.
Unfortunately, what has not changed in the Americas is that the crimes go on and the fact that the majority of them go unpunished. That is why we shall not waiver in our commitment to wage war on impunity and to do so with all diligence. We must reinforce what we have already achieved so far and continue creating wide public awareness of this issue through various means.
We in the IAPA are pursuing these goals through the distribution of resolutions emerging from the IAPA meetings and being sent to governments concerned, as well as through an anti-impunity advertising campaign, in which to date more than 300 newspapers have been participating, and by emphasizing the need to enact laws to bring the guilty to justice.
In July last year we held in the Dominican Republic the Hemisphere Conference on The Judiciary, The Press and Impunity, which was attended by 24 judges and Supreme Court justices and which laid the groundwork for a program of training and dialogue among public prosecutors, judges and news media editors and publishers that we will launch shortly. In fact, just a few weeks ago I headed an IAPA delegation that met in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, with that countrys Supreme Court chief justice, whom we told of our pleasure at the progress achieved there in terms of combating impunity through the Courts precedent-setting ruling in dismissing a case brought against a journalist. We urged similar further action so that other crimes do not go unpunished in that country.
Another effort aimed at putting a brake on violence are the training courses for reporters working in danger spots. From last May to date we have held such courses in Argentina, Bolivia and Mexico, with the participation of 154 journalists. We have also placed at the disposal of news media and individual journalists on our redesigned Web site, www.impunidad.com, a manual on procedures for exposing and denouncing threats against news men and women and a brochure on inter-governmental and Inter American Press Association documents and declarations, as aids to combating impunity.
We continue working within the framework of the inter-American system and we will shortly be making available to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights the results of other investigations into crimes against journalists, as well as following up the 11 cases already accepted by the Commission of the 19 that we have submitted so far.
Every day we are more convinced of the importance of collaboration among organizations, sharing experiences so as to forge a common front in conducting missions, holding seminars and courses, and making studies, among other actions, to combat impunity in the Americas and in other parts of the world.
Finally, I would like to say that the IAPA hails and joins in the commemoration of the UNESCO-sponsored World Press Freedom Day being held today and tomorrow in Maputo, Mozambique, and which will be focusing on access to pubic information.
*World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3 each year, was instituted in commemoration of the Declaration of Windhoek, a document that sets out the principles on the defense of freedom of the press drawn up in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists arranged by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).