13 November 2009

Report of the Impunity Committee

Report on behalf of Committee Chairman Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz presented by Vice-Chairman Roberto Rock, 65th General Assembly, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sunday, November 8, 2009.
Report on behalf of Committee Chairman Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz presented by Vice-Chairman Roberto Rock, 65th General Assembly, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sunday, November 8, 2009. We present to this General Assembly a report on the tasks carried out during the last six months, in which we have achieved major progress against impunity. On the other hand, we have to lament the fact that at the same time during this period there were a disturbing number of attacks and deadly assaults on journalists. A total of 16 journalists were murdered, half of that number in Mexico, where the problem appears to be worsening day by day and thus requires extraordinary action to be taken. In Mexico – my country – killed were journalists Norberto Miranda Madrid, Juan Daniel Martínez Gil, Ernesto Montañez Valdivia, Martín Javier Miranda Avilés, Eliseo Barrón Hernández, Carlos Ortega Melo Samper, Bladimir Antuna García and Fabián Ramírez López. In Colombia, Diego Rojas Velásquez and José Everardo Aguilar. In El Salvador, Christian Poveda. In Guatemala, Marco Antonio Estrada Orla and Rolando Santis. And in Honduras, Gabriel Fino Noriega, Rafael Munguía and Bernardo Rivera. I would ask that we observe a minute of silence to honor the memory of these colleagues. … Thank you very much. In the effort to prevent this kind of offense remaining in silence and forgotten, this IAPA Committee has had some positive achievements. Our denunciations and actions that support the mobilization of the press in each of these countries have helped lead to 92 people being accused of having taken part in these kinds of crimes against journalists’ lives and against the freedom of the communities in which they were working and being brought to trial, and they are now serving prison sentences in 13 countries of the Americas. The most recent sentences were handed down in Brazil and Mexico. In this period in addition sentences in another three murder cases in Brazil and Colombia were upheld. We would ask those attending this General Assembly to take note and spread the word that the IAPA expresses its strongest condemnation of the fact that in Colombia 26 such cases in the hands of the national Attorney General’s Office have stalled and that the Supreme Court there ruled in April against a review of the murder of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal, whose case we submitted several years ago to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). On the other hand, in Brazil the state of Bahia acknowledged – thanks to the intense efforts of the IAPA, with the mediation of the IACHR itself – its legal and political responsibility for shortcomings in the investigation into the 1998 murder of Manoel Leal de Oliveira. It is expected that the state legislature will approve a proposal to pay reparations to the journalist’s family. In a ceremony held on September 21 in which this was announced homage was also paid to the memory of another nine Bahia journalists murdered in recent years. Many of the activities carried out in the last six months covered by this report centered on Mexico, where the actions of organized crime and governmental incompetence in protecting citizens have become a mortal threat to the practice of journalism. To encourage discussion on this issue the IAPA in April held in Mexico City a conference on the experiences of the Colombian government and press in the fight against the illicit drug trade. In this we had the generous contributions of former president César Gaviria and Colombian Police Chief Gen. Oscar Naranjo. In addition, in an international forum organized by the IAPA which had the support of the Federal Judiciary and the Autonmous National University of Mexico (UNAM), we discussed international standards and legal procedures protecting the work of journalists and we pressed our call for the federalization and stiffening of punishment of those who commit these crimes, major aspects of our agenda in Mexico. We are also working with Colombian public prosecutors and judges in conjunction with the ANDIARIOS group, and we held training courses for journalists reporting under risk in Hermosilllo, San Pedro Sula and Guatemala City. In addition to these achievements we have numerous challenges ahead of us, the major ones being: • To raise the level of debate in Mexico on this problem. To urge that Congress reinstate a legislative committee to investigate cases of attacks and promote initiatives for reform in this area, such as to make crimes against journalists federal offenses. In Mexico itself we will conduct an in-depth investigation to enable us to learn more about the patterns of violence throughout the country, which we hope will give rise to videos, special reports and also new lines of work and collaboration with various sectors of Mexican society. • To follow up the talks with the legislative and judicial branches of the Colombian and Peruvian governments to seek a stiffening of the penalties in such cases. • To work more closely with the Inter-American Commission, in addition to continuing with our investigations in new and old cases of murder. • Regarding training, we will continue with our seminars program, to which beginning in December we will ad webinars (online seminars) from our Miami headquarters. And in conjunction with UNAM we will be offering a 120-hour virtual degree course, whose initial stage will begin in December. • A major challenge is to mobilize public opinion and call for action to support our cause. For this, we are widening our work on such social networks as Facebook and Twitter and we will turn our half-monthly online newsletter into a weekly publication. At the same time we will take other steps to generate more traffic on our Web site (www.impunidad.com). • The main traffic that we obtain comes from newspapers’ own Web sites, many of which are already publishing our banners. In addition to thanking them for their support we would like to invite those that have nor done so yet to join this campaign and help us mobilize and empower people. • In this spirit of collaboration I would like to let you know that our Impunity Committee is developing strategies with the aim of seeking and obtaining more funding to underpin our work. This is an essential matter for the life of this Project. The generous support of the Knight Foundation will shortly come to an end. We need the support of all of you for you to give us ideas and indicate contacts of foundations and media, especially in the Latin American region, with whom we can meet to invite them to give financial support to this cause. Please contact directly Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, myself or Ricardo Trotti to set up an agenda with this kind of approach. • On a final note, I would like to ask for your attention, as we are going to present a video which we see as a tool to widen public awareness of the attacks upon journalists, an outrage that the community should understand as not only a phenomenon that harms us the press but also as a direct threat to everyone’s freedom. This new IAPA documentary on this occasion has a reference to the murder of Mexican journalist Francisco Ortiz Franco which we will shortly begin to distribute with the aim of its having a wider dissemination. We rely on your support for it to be broadcast by the television channels of your country and on your newspapers’ Web sites. We offer you an advance of this new documentary, which we have titled “El crujir de las palabras” (The Crunching of Words). • Thank you very much.