But it calls for concrete legal action to combat impunity
Miami (February 11, 2015)—An international delegation of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today welcomed advances regarding freedom of expression and press freedom in Colombia, following a meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos at the Casa de Nariño government headquarters.
Santos once more confirmed to the IAPA his “absolute commitment to freedom of the press,” but recognized impunity as a “valid criticism”, a structural problem of a country that is seeking peace after more than 50 years of war. “We do want to end the impunity,” Santos stressed, “but it is a structural problem that we are attempting to resolve.”
Gustavo Mohme, president of the IAPA and editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, headed the delegation which included Claudio Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, Lourdes de Obaldía of the Panama newspaper La Prensa, and IAPA Executive Director Ricardo Trotti. They expressed to Santos their satisfaction “at the advances in recent years on the issue of press freedom in Colombia.” The President, citing negative arguments of families of murdered journalists, stated that the government has “a pending obligation” and it should take more concrete legal action with the aim of combating impunity.
After acknowledging shortfalls regarding impunity, Santos expressed his willingness to take up recommendations about actions that his government could take, so that several cases of failures to punish crimes against journalists be brought to justice, that the facts be known, and the victims be compensated. Santos said that the changes in the Attorney General’s Office made last year had already shown positive results, and that it was his commitment to pursue changes regarding the prioritization of cases.
Paolillo, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, stressed to President Santos the importance of solving iconic cases, which could serve to put an end to the scourge of impunity, and thus help other legal cases that are bogged down in the courts. Paolillo informed him of the meetings that the delegation had with members of the families of murdered journalists Guillermo Cano, Orlando Sierra and Nelson Carvajal; cases that have been investigated by the IAPA, some of which the organization had brought before the Inter-American System.
Also relayed to Santos were complaints by members of the family of journalist and politician Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, murdered during the Ernesto Samper administration; an unpunished crime that will be subject to the statute of limitations in November of this year, and which has been dealt with by 29 different prosecutors.
The IAPA also expressed to Santos the interest of journalists and the media, which are seeking greater transparency and information about the peace process that the government is engaging in with the FARC guerrilla movement. It also expressed its support for the passage of the law on access to information, which is still awaiting formal enactment of regulations for it to be in effect.
The delegation went to Colombia in response to an invitation by the Bogotá Journalists Circle and its president Elker Buitrago. The IAPA also attended the presentation of the annual report of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) on violence, which highlighted the fact that 142 journalists have been murdered because of their work since 1977; of these, 67 cases had become subject to the statute of limitations and another four would do so this year. The IAPA group met privately with FLIP President Ignacio Gómez and Executive Director Pedro Vaca.
At the headquarters of the Colombian Association of Newspaper and News Media Editors and Publishers (Andiarios), the IAPA held a meeting with Roberto Pombo, editor of El Tiempo, and Nora Sanín, the organization’s executive director, with whom it discussed the issues of lack of protection for journalists, mainly in inland Colombia, and of several laws that could have a negative impact on the practice of journalism.
The IAPA also met with Constitutional Court Chief Justice Luis Ernesto Vargas and Deputy Chief Justice Jorge Ignacio Pretelt Chaljub, with whom it discussed the right to confidentiality and privacy in specific cases that are creating case law. Subsequently there was a meeting at the Supreme Court with Criminal Tribunal Justice José Luis Barceló Camacho. In addition, the delegation met at the Colombian Attorney General’s Office with Juan Pablo Hinestrosa Vélez, National Director of Analysis and Content, and with Public Prosecutor Mauricio Noguera Rojas.
The delegation, which was in Bogotá February 9 and 10, will present a special report to the IAPA membership that will be holding its Midyear Meeting in Panama City, Panama, March 6-9.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.