Published On: Wed, Nov 23rd, 2011

Int’l day vs. impunity should be wake up call for gov’ts worldwide

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The first International Day against Impunity this year should be a wake-up call for governments around the world to prevent and punish violence against journalists, and thus help making journalism safer, an international media watchdog group said. According to the International Federation

of Journalists, the global

event marks the second anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines, where 57 people – 32 of them journalists – were brutally murdered.

“From Somalia to Sri Lanka, Mexico to The Philippines and Pakistan through Iraq and Eritrea, journalists continue to be put to sword in total impunity. The overwhelming majority of victims are local and national journalists who are denied both the protection and justice by their own governments. Today, we are honoring their memory but also making a determined statement of intent to make the end of impunity the lasting legacy of their sacrifice,” said IFJ president Jim Boumelha in a statement Wednesday night.

The IFJ wrote embassies of the “most dangerous countries for journalists,” including Iraq, Mexico, the Philippines, Pakistan and Somalia. It reminded them the culture of impunity is the single biggest factor at the root of violence targeting media.

“Such crimes carry no risk of serious investigations and prosecutions, exposing in many cases the absence of the rule of law, whether due to police corruption, judicial incompetence or political indifference,” the IFJ letter said.

They pointed to cases of journalists’ murders which remain unresolved in Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Arab world and Latin America, the IFJ said.

“It is time to lift the shadow of impunity which has prevented these journalists’ families and colleagues to get justice for their loved ones,” added Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary.

“Today’s message is that the status quo is not an option in the face of the tragedy which continues to befall our colleagues,” she added.

Families of victims still await justice

Meanwhile, another international media watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) reiterated its full support for the families of the victims and voiced concern about the continuing impunity and the judicial system’s slowness.

“We are worried by the lack of progress in the judicial investigation and the repeated postponement of hearings. Two years after the worst massacre ever suffered by the media, fewer than half of those responsible have been arrested and no one has been convicted. Most have not had precise charges brought against them while those behind the massacre are using every possible kind of appeal to escape justice. Impartial justice must be rendered without delay,” it said in a statement.

While RSF said it welcomes the judicial system’s rejection of the appeals by several of the people involved, it remind it of its responsibility to the families of the 32 dead journalists.

“It would be unacceptable if these families had to wait indefinitely for the massacre’s instigators and perpetrators to be convicted. Both the credibility of Philippine justice and the safety of the country’s journalists for years to come are at stake,” it said.

RSF noted an appeal court rejected a request by Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the leading defendants, to reestablish a decision by former justice minister Alberto Agra absolving him of complicity in the massacre’s planning and execution.

Last Nov. 21, the families of the victim’s asked the justice minister to reject Zaldy Ampatuan’s offer to turn state witness in an electoral fraud case against former President Gloria Arroyo, which would give him preferential treatment.

The RSF said there have been many twists and turns in the case in the past 10 months, some of which have highlighted the discrepancies in the judicial system’s regulations and the ineffective way the hearings are being conducted.

It also noted President Benigno Aquino III, during his election campaign in 2010, promised to combat impunity and referred repeatedly to the Maguindanao massacre.

The widows of one of the victims appeared in one of his campaign spots, it noted.

“Reporters Without Borders, which supports the campaign against impunity being waged by members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), urges President Aquino and his government to do everything possible to ensure the Maguindanao massacre trial’s successful conclusion in 2012 and to end the impunity still prevailing in the Philippines,” it said. — ELR, GMA News

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