Report of Impunity Committee

presented by Committee Chairman Alberto Ibargüen to the IAPA Midyear Meeting Monday, March 18, 2002 Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic The work of the IAPA (Anti) Impunity Committee continues to be necessary for the preservation of a free press in the Americas. Despite best efforts, we have not obtained meaningful responses to our pleas to bring many of the guilty to justice. Since our last meeting in Washington, we have issued 16 resolutions and 87 calls for action by police, judiciary, legislative and executive authorities in Bolivia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico and Paraguay. The reaction has been minimal. Practicing journalm in our Hemisphere continues to be dangerous work. Other IAPA committees focus on free press guarantees and on the prevention of violence and harassment of journalists. Since we are not always successful and as long as journalists are murdered because they have practiced journalism, we have an affirmative duty to ensure that their murderers are brought to justice. To do that, this Association's brings to bear journalism to expose the guilty. By practicing journalism, we shed light on crimes against our own people and we add pressure on authorities to prosecute the murders. Without prosecution there is impunity; with prosecution, justice might be done. And we should be absolutely clear that this is not about vengeance, but about justice. It is essential that we continue to expose those who by murdering journalists seek to prevent the exposure of wrongdoing, as in the case of the drug traffickers in Mexico, guerrillas and paramilitaries in Colombia or corruption in public officials in Haiti and Brazil. We live in a marvelous world where communications technology allows enormous good. But, it also allows politicians to incite attacks on journalists in ways we didn't imagine only a few years ago. We've seen this in Colombia, Guatemala and Ecuador, but nowhere is it more in evidence or more dangerous today than in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez's attacks on the press and on individual journalists are incitements to harm. No one who saw the video shown yesterday at this Convention can doubt that. If those incitements lead to the death of journalists, who will punish those crimes inspired by a head of state? I take this opportunity to remind our members that exposure is the best antidote for this malady…so, I urge you to cover the efforts of the IAPA in your newspapers and other media so that exposure of these crimes is effective and their repudiation can become general. Since we last met, four journalists were murdered because they were journalists. Orlando Sierra Hernández and Alvaro Alonso Escobar from Colombia, Félix Fernández García of Mexico and Brignol Lindor of Haiti all have been killed because they were journalists. I note also the death of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, whose murder in Pakistan last month shocked the world and will, hopefully, bring more attention to the dangers journalists face all over the world and, perhaps, even a recognition that this kind of terrorism is not just a danger in war, but a daily occupational hazard for journalists around the world. Let us please observe our traditional moment of silence to honor the memory of these five colleagues. Thank you. As grim as these murders were and as hard a wall as some governments place to preserve impunity for the murderers, I am glad to report the success we've achieved in Guatemala in the matter of Irma Flaquer. We began investigating her case in 1995 when the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation first funded our Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists project. Now, 22 years after her disappearance and presumed murder in 1980, Guatemalan Attorney General Adolfo González Rodas has appointed a special state attorney and the "Flaquer case" has been reopened in Guatemala's judicial system. The so-called "Impetus Committee," created to ensure compliance with the agreement reached between the IAPA and the Guatemalan government, has been active and effective. The Committee was instrumental getting the government to pay reparations to the victim's family and for the launch at this meeting of the book "La Que Nunca Calló" - a compilation of articles by Irma Flaquer that show how she put her life at risk in exposing corruption. In other countries, our Rapid Response Unit continues to report on murder cases. To date, we have filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights evidence in 15 cases out of a total of 37 murders investigated. As you can tell, we have not filed reports on all of the murders investigated. That is, in part, because some are still in progress and because in some cases, we have determined that the motive for the killing was not related to journalism. I want to commend the work of the members of the Rapid Response Unit, journalists Diana Calderón, Jorge Elías and Clarinha Glock, and of their editor and chief, Ricardo Trotti. I also commend Julio Muñoz for overall direction of the IAPA in this matter. The professionalism that they bring to these investigations adds weight and credibility when we do file our cases with the Human Rights Commission. Some of the most important work we do is following-up on previously reported cases. In recent months we returned to the murder cases of Manoel Leal de Oliveira and Ronaldo Santana de Araújo in Brazil, Amparo Jiménez, Guzmán Quintero and Jairo Elías Márquez in Colombia, and Juan Carlos Encina in Bolivia. This follow-up work is important because it shows local authorities that we will not merely report a case once and forget about it. We must continue to put on the pressure of sunlight and exposure until we see appropriate action by the authorities. The Rapid Response Unit has also begun work on two new cases - those of Brazilian José Wellington Fernández, murdered in March 2000 and of Colombian Jaime Garzón, slain in August 1999 in Bogotá. Since we are here on the island of Hispaniola, we should note, with regret, certain unpunished murders. In neighboring Haiti the murderers of Bignol Lindor in December 2001, of Jean Leopold Dominique in April, 2000, and of Gerard Denoze in December 2000, are still at large. In the Dominican Republic, the disappearance of columnist Narcisco Pinales González is still unsolved. "Narcisazo," disappeared in May 1994 after harshly criticizing then President Joaquín Balaguer and senior military officers. The case is currently in the hands of an investigating magistrate, but shows little signs of activity. Faced with a lack of action on the part of the authorities in the majority of the cases we have investigated in Brazil, the Impunity Committee has recommended that we send a special mission to that country later this year, probably right after elections determine the nation's new leadership. The mission will also serve to review progress on the commitments made to the IAPA in 1999, when Brazilian leaders agreed to push legislation to place the murder of journalists under federal jurisdiction on the theory that it is an unconstitutional abridgement of Brazilians' right to free speech. Among the cases that we investigated in Brazil that remain stalled are those of Aristeu Guida da Silva, Manoel Leal de Oliveira and Ronaldo Santana de Araújo. A former police officer and a mayor have been implicated in the last-named case. We have also followed-up on other murders in Brazil, including those of Reinaldo Coutinho da Silva, Edgar Lopes de Faria, José Carlos Mesquita, Maria Nilce Magalhães, Mário Eugenio de Oliveira and Mário Coelho de Almeida, filho. All of these murders have occurred in the interior of the country. We regret to have nothing positive to report on the investigations in Mexico, despite the good will of President Vicente Fox. In fact, we've experienced setbacks. In the case of Philip True, the suspects have been released. We believe there has been no careful review of the evidence we and others gathered and the murderers today enjoy impunity. In other murders involving Mexican journalists Víctor Manuel Oropeza and Héctor Félix Miranda, authorities have failed even to respond to the information we made available through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Most of the journalist murder cases in Mexico have occurred along the U.S.-Mexico border and are linked to drug trafficking. In coordination with the IAPA's regional vice chairman for Mexico and the Journalists at Risk Committee, we are considering the feasibility of a conference to expose this problem and prevent violence against journalists. In 1997, the president of Colombia responded to a call by IAPA and established a special state attorney's office to deal with crimes against journalists. Some progress has been made. Police authorities recently arrested former congressman Carlos Oviedo, a chief suspect in the murders of Jairo Elías Márquez and Ernesto Acero Cadena. Meanwhile, the alleged mastermind behind the murder of Carlos Lajud Catalán, which we have been investigating since 1995, was formally charged. Before our next meeting in Peru, we intend to open investigations into the 1995 murder of Nivanildo Barbosa Lima and the 1992 murder of Ivan dos Santos Rocha, both in Bahia, Brazil. We will also begin to report on the 1998 murder of Nelson Carvajal in Huila, Colombia. Once again, I would like to call the attention of IAPA members and member newspapers to our web site at All of our investigation results are on that site. If you require additional information, we'll be glad to try to get it for you through our offices in Miami, or through the other organizations with which we work, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, World Association of Newspapers, World Press Freedom Committee, Reporters Without Borders, Colombian Foundation for Press Freedom, and the Brazilian National Newspaper Association. Our objective continues to be justice. We seek that through the investigation of crimes, making public our findings, relaying them to local authorities and international organizations so that they may take appropriate action. Journalism is the weapon we have and the weapon we use to prevent the guilty from getting away with murder. It is good work for this Association. Thank you very much.