Speech - Alberto Ibargüen

Presentation by Alberto Ibargüen Chairman, Impunity Committee IAPA General Assembly Chicago, Illinois Octubre, 2003 Impunity Committee reports in the past have been appropriately sober and alarming. When we began this work, hundreds of journalists were being assassinated throughout the Hemisphere, but very little attention was paid to the nearly total absence of prosecution of their murderers and even less attention was being paid to rallying support from citizens and readers for the importance of the journalistic task that our colleagues were undertaking. Today, I take great pride and pleasure in beginning this report by telling you that progress has been made. Yes, we have to report the murder of journalists who have been killed since our last meeting…but we also have reports of successful prosecutions, of training of journalists to avoid danger and I will be especially pleased to report how well the members of the IAPA have responded and participated in our anti-Impunity advertising campaign that has raised enormous awareness about the dangers of practicing journalism. Perhaps there will never be a time in our lifetime when journalists will not be at risk. But it’s a reasonable and achievable goal to reduce the risk to journalists by increasing the certainty of punishment. And it is also a reasonable goal to increase the general understanding of what journalists do and why their mission … to inform and to illuminate the lives and minds of our readers … is so important, yet so frail and so in need of the protection and support not just of the authorities, but of the general population in any democracy. We have three goals that are comparatively easy to measure against: 1. reduce the number of murders of journalists; 2. pressure authorities to prosecute the murderers and 3. raise awareness among our readers and the general population about the importance of journalism, its dangers. We announced our advertising campaign in Lima and launched it in El Salvador just 6 months ago. I am proud to announce that, today, we have 193 newspapers and magazines (and even some online portals) that have participated. Each of these has run ads about a particular victim and each has invited readers to be outraged and to protest the murders. This project is funded, as you know, by the James S. and James L. Knight Foundation with a multi year, multi million dollar grant that is conditioned on IAPA member participation and matching contributions. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that you, the members, are contributing at a rate of over $3million in advertising space donated to this campaign. There has never in the history of this organization been anything close to that and I thank you very, very much. To date the seven published ads have enabled us to pursue our demand that justice be done in the murders of Jean Leopold Dominique of Haiti; Ivan Rocha and Reinaldo Coutinho da Silva of Brazil; Elizabeth Obando Murcia, Gerardo Bedoya Borrero and Orlando Sierra Hernández of Colombia, and Héctor Félix Miranda of Mexico. The impact of the campaign can be measured by the thousands of readers who are motivated each month to sign petitions on our Web site (www.impunidad.com) and by the hundreds of letters that we receive and, in turn, periodically send to government officials, helping us to achieve our goal of pressuring authorities to do prosecute the murders. Since we began the campaign, we have nearly quadrupled the website traffic at www.impunidad.com. Each time we run an ad, you can see an increase in the traffic and we’ve gone from 3,000 hits a day to more than 11,000 unique visitors. For a website of this sober nature, this is tremendous growth. This figure shows that we are achieving our objective of making the general public aware about impunity and that the issue becomes a part of the political agenda in each of our countries. Murders of journalists, of course, have not stopped. Since March this year four journalists were killed in Brazil, three in Colombia and one in Guatemala. The death toll in the Americas in the last 15 years is horrendous – 274 journalists killed for doing their job. From March to date those murdered have been Héctor Ramírez in Guatemala; Luiz Antônio da Costa, Nicanor Linares Batista, and Edgar Ribeiro Pereira in Brazil, and Jaimes Rengifo Revero, Guillermo Bravo Vega, José Nel Muñoz and José Emeterio Rivas in Colombia. In their memory, as is our tradition, I ask you to observe one moment of silence. The readers of the ads do not solely sign petitions, but also send us letters of support and commitment – and they are coming from unexpected parts of the world. For example, recently we received a letter from the director of the Colombian Presidency’s Anti-Corruption Program, Germán Cardona Gutiérrez, who, after reading the ad published in newspapers in his country about the murder of Orlando Sierra, pledged his support in the investigation to have the February 2002 crime solved. Also in Colombia, following the publication of the ad about Gerardo Bedoya, former editorial pages editor of El País in Cali, the Colombian attorney general set up a Special Committee to deal with such murder cases. In addition to conducting this advertising campaign we are pleased to be able to report other achievements: • In Haiti, the people who carried out the murder of Jean Leopold Dominique were found guilty and sent to prison; • in Guatemala, the Amicable Agreement with the government on the Irma Flaquer case continues to be implemented; • in Brazil and Colombia, the murderers of Manoel Leal de Oliveira and Guzmán Quintero Torres, respectively, were tried and convicted. As you know, at the core of our program are the brave journalists who make up our Rapid Response Unit. They have been extremely active during this period. To begin with, they investigated the murders of • Elizabeth Obando in Colombia; • Luis da Costa and Ivan Rocha in Brazil; • Parmenio Medina in Costa Rica, and • Rodolfo Fernándes in Argentina. The Unit also contributed to the updating of a number of cases, among them those of • Domingo Lima Jr., Mário Coelho, José Fernández and Mário de Oliveira in Brazil, and • Orlando Sierra and Nelson Carvajal in Colombia. The Unit’s work also played an indispensable part in the provision of new details to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has taken up within the inter-American justice system 17 cases of the 45 that we have investigated since we launched this project in 1995. In recent months we have submitted a further case to the Commission, that of Brazilian journalist Ivan Rocha, and we have supplied new evidence concerning the murders of Ronaldo Santana de Araújo and of Manoel Leal de Oliveira in Brazil and of Nelson Carvajal in Colombia. As you know, the role of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is extremely important in the battle against impunity. This coming Monday (October 20), we will present testimony before the Commission, as we have on five other occasions. We will be presenting material in connection with the murders of Héctor Félix Miranda and Víctor Manuel Oropeza, both from Mexico, which we have pursued since 1995. The Impunity Committee’s has also joined forces with others within our organization, working closely with the Journalists At Risk Committee – for which I especially thank my colleague Enrique Santos Calderón– and with the Chapultepec Committee, the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, and the IAPA Press Institute. We have initiated a busty schedule of seminars to train journalists working in risky situations, with the aim of minimizing the danger they face while reporting. The first course on investigative reporting and reporting under fire was held in September in Valencia, Venezuela, with the support of the El Carobobeño newspaper. Also in September, this time in Guatemala, at a Press Institute conference on reporting and the law, we urged attending legislators to take concrete steps to combat impunity. Shortly, in conjunction with the Journalists At Risk Committee we will be granting scholarships for Latin American journalists to attend in November the first course that we will be giving with the British firm Centurion. Centurion is a firm that specializes in training survival techniques while reporting in dangerous situations. In February, we will be offering similar courses in Buenos Aires with the Caecopaz Company. Aware that we especially need to train newspaper managing editors so that they can pass their knowledge on to reporters, we have chosen Colombia – the most dangerous country – as the place to hold a degree course for them, in association with the University of The Andes. We will be adding further courses and seminars in danger zones in the Americas, such as the United States-Mexico border area and the Brazil-Paraguay frontier. As I said at the start of my presentation, it is a source of enormous satisfaction for me to be able to announce to you that we are achieving the objectives of our project in these first few months of the new four-year phase in which we have the funding of the Knight Foundation. Promotion, Investigation and Training are the main pillars of this battle that we are waging so that the work of the 274 journalists murdered in the Americas shall not go in vain. Our intention is, in short, to prevent journalists being killed, so the voices of democracy can be freely heard. I thank the Knight Foundation, I thank the very brave members of the Rapid Response Unit, I thank Ricardo Trotti and Julio Muñoz of the IAPA staff leadership and I thank all of the working journalists in the Hemisphere. But, today, my special and heartfelt thanks go to you in this audience because it’s you who have said “Yes, we can stop this.” It is you who have said “We can do something about this.” And it is you, who direct these 193 newspapers and magazines that have joined our campaign who are the heroes of this moment. Thank you.