COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS (CPJ) REPLIES TO QUESTIONS FOR “POLITICAL ASPECTS STUDY” OF THE INITIATIVE ON IMPUNITY AND THE RULE OF LAW, 16/5/2011
CPJ Website: www.cpj.org
1. How do you assess the overall extent of the damage to the free and legitimate activities of journalists and news media, in affected countries and regions, done by violent attacks on media workers, and the documented patterns of impunity from prosecution for those responsible?
Impunity is a key indicator in assessing levels of press freedom and free expression in nations worldwide. CPJ research shows that deadly, unpunished violence against journalists often leads to a general pattern of self-censorship in the rest of the press corps. From Somalia to Mexico, CPJ has found that journalists avoid sensitive topics, leave the profession, or flee their homeland to escape violent retribution.
CPJ has documented the use of self-censorship in response to media violence in Colombia in a 2005 report “Untold Stories” http://www.cpj.org/reports/2005/10/colombia-da-fall-05.php. Interviews with three dozen news professionals revealed that media outlets and journalists across the country routinely censor themselves in fear of physical retaliation from all sides in the nation’s conflict.
Media murders and attacks are often intended not just to silence the victim but send a message to the community – sometimes this is demonstrated by the nature of the crime. In many cases CPJ has found the journalist was taken captive and/or tortured. After the tortured remains of Mexican reporter Valentín Valdés Espinosa were discovered, no other reporter in the city of Saltillo attempted to report on why Espinosa had been killed. His newspaper, Zócalo de Saltillo, stopped reporting on organized crime.
Our data also supports that where rates of violent attacks are high and impunity in those attacks the norm, then violence repeats – the most glaring example of this being the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in the Philippines. It is a widely-held belief that the massacre in which 32 journalists and media workers were brutally murdered, could not have taken place were there not a longstanding record of impunity in the Philippines. The perpetrators clearly thought they could get away with this atrocity and may well still as the trial limps forward. An analysis of CPJ’s annual impunity index http://www.cpj.org/reports/2010/04/cpj-2010-impunity-index-getting-away-with-murder.php over the past three years shows that the majority of nations identified as having the worst records at solving journalists’murders also repeatedly see new acts of violence.
Another less frequently discussed issue is the large number of journalists driven into exile due to threat of violence. In its annual survey on journalists in exile, CPJ has found threat of violence (direct threats or fear following attacks against colleagues) to be the leading reason journalists are forced to flee their countries. In several cases CPJ interviewed, journalists in exile have said they would consider returning to their countries if they saw justice take place in murders of their colleagues.
For these and other reasons, the impact of impunity and media violence is devastating for the media on those countries and civil society, which are denied a full range of reporting on issues of vital importance.
2. How do you summarise the CPJ’s strategy and priorities in carrying out its activities – visits, statements etc – to counter those trends and to raise public and media awareness of the issues? Please describe the CPJ’s experience of making representations to any national government (e.g Turkey over the Hrant Dink murder or the recent spate of criminal prosecutions of journalists, Russia over the Anna Polikovskaya murder , Ukraine over the Georgiy Gongadze murder etc). How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the responses?
In recognition that impunity is among the most dire issues in the FOE community, CPJ launched its global campaign against impunity in 2007. The campaign highlights Russia and the Philippines though we work actively against impunity in all countries. Activities include sustained advocacy to draw public and political attention to the problem of impunity, in-depth reporting on the cases of killed journalists, close collaboration with local journalists and media organizations, and legal aid to support prosecution efforts. CPJ routinely publishes alerts and protest letters and special reports. We conduct international missions several times a year relating to impunity. In 2010 CPJ convened a summit in New York bringing together organizations from around the world to share strategies. Since 2008, CPJ has published an annual Global Impunity Index, ranking countries with poor records of justice in the murders of journalists.
To give a few examples of our activities: In Russia, CPJ has sent three delegations to Moscow to meet with government officials and prosecutors over the unsolved murders. In 2009 we published Anatomy of Injustice, a comprehensive analysis of cases of journalists murdered for their work. In the Philippines we support through local group Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists legal strategies to advance prosecution, develop rapid response teams and public awareness campaigns. Since the launch of the campaign CPJ has conducted three missions there highlighting to Philippine officials that the international community is closely monitoring the situation and reporting in depth on challenges to justice such as limits of witness protection there. We have given aid to families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre and support ongoing legal counsel for several family members.
CPJ believes our advocacy, combined with the work of other groups, colleagues and advocates around the world, has had a strong impact in raising the level of attention this issue gets and has pushed governments to be more responsive, at least on the public front. In the past year, CPJ delegations have met with heads of state in the Philippines, Mexico, and Pakistan, and with senior law enforcement officials in Russia, to seek systemic reforms and convictions in unsolved cases. In each instance, top officials pledged to reverse the record of impunity in their countries, but the task is considerable. CPJ research shows that, time and again, entrenched corruption and dysfunction in law enforcement has thwarted justice in journalist murders. Suspects have been publicly identified in dozens of unsolved cases examined by CPJ, but authorities have been unable or unwilling to gain convictions.
In Mexico, President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa’s administration has adopted some broad reforms—strengthening the office of the special prosecutor for crimes against free expression, for one—but prosecutors are still failing to win convictions in a corruption-plagued legal system. In the Philippines, President Benigno Aquino has pledged to successfully prosecute those responsible for the 2009 massacre of dozens of journalists and others in Maguindanao province. But trial proceedings thus far have been marred by threats and bribes targeting witnesses.
So, we are concerned that while there is an overt change in public treatment to the issue by many leaders and CPJ has had success in securing high level meetings on the issue, overall few convictions have taken place globally and for the most part violence continues unabated. Repeatedly, CPJ has seen governments make promises and public commitments to this issue but they are yet to be upheld.
3. How do you assess the track record of Western governments (USA, UK, France, Germany etc), in speaking out publicly against targeted assaults and murders of journalists wherever they occur? Is the level and tone of such criticisms and protests adequate or inadequate, in your view? Is it consistent? Also, how much positive impact do you think is achieved by representations made to national governments on these issues by UN agencies, by the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the EU , the OAS or other inter-regional bodies, concerning individual cases, or alleged negligence or severe failures by states to protect journalists’ safety and legitimate rights? In other words, how effective are such statements and protests?
On the whole, CPJ believes the international community has not shown strong enough commitment to this issue and media freedom.
The U.S. government has a mixed record in supporting press freedom matters. The past three administrations –Obama, Bush and Clinton– have each spoken out at different times in support of press freedom worldwide. In fact, each successive administration has made progressively stronger statements on support on occasions like World Press Freedom Day due in no small part to CPJ advocacy. However, policies have not kept up with official rhetoric. The Bush administration publicly promoted the notion of democratic reforms in many nations, at the same time that the Bush administration not only backed many regimes that violated press freedom, but also jailed more than dozen journalists for prolonged periods of time without charging them with crimes. The Obama administration has ended the U.S. military practice of detaining journalists without charge. But the record remains mixed as the administration has supported regimes like the one recently deposed in Tunisia. At the same time the administration has taken an avowedly pragmatic approach to bilateral relations with nations like China and Russia allowing security and other concerns to supersede issues about press freedom and human rights.
The European Union, while espousing support for press freedom, is often unwilling to take a confrontational role. However there are some positive signs that the issue of impunity is taken more seriously. The European Commission and the European Council have raised the issue with foreign governments, in the context of human rights or political dialogues, as was the case late last year with Russia. CPJ was consulted before these meetings in order to provide pertinent information on the cases of impunity. The European Parliament has shown its commitment to tackle the issue more forcefully by devoting on May 2, 2011 a 2 hour hearing of its Foreign Affairs Committee and its Human Rights Subcommittee to the impunity issue and inviting a CPJ representative to testify and suggest guidance on how to better fight this phenomenon. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do;jsessionid=802FC23185673C8B6CBD453B6105E8E3.node2?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+IM-PRESS+20110502IPR18527+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN
Besides the European Commission and European Parliament are currently involved in the development of European wide programme for the setting up of “shelter cities” for human rights defenders that includes journalists in danger.
The record of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is not more convincing. When Azerbaijan failed to comply with a European Court order to release Editor Eynulla Fatullayev the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the body tasked with ensuring compliance with court rulings, issued only a cautious reprimand to Baku. It did not adopt a resolution for sanctions against Azerbaijan as penalty for non-compliance, despite its mandate to do so. [Fatullayev was finally released on 26 May 2011]
4. Globally, how adequate or otherwise are the current authorities, mandates and procedures available to, and used by, the international community to pursue those goals – such as mechanisms used by UNESCO, the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies, judgements given by the European Court of Human Rights, soft laws through the Council of Europe etc? And can you identify any particular legal or political mechanism which you think should be strengthened or newly established to counter the alarming trends?
CPJ has grown increasingly concerned about international institutions failure to defend press freedom. In CPJ’s annual report our director published an essay calling into question the fact that “many international governmental organizations created to defend press freedom are consistently failing to fulfil their mission… human rights and press freedom groups are expending time, resources, and energy ensuring these institutions do not veer widely from their mandate.” http://www.cpj.org/2011/02/attacks-on-the-press-2010-introduction-joel-simon.php . He cites the following examples:
-Last year, Kazakhstan, one of the region’s worst press freedom violators, assumed chairmanship of the OSCE despite failing to implement promised press freedom reforms.
-CPJ and other press freedom organizations have sought to enlist U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the global fight against impunity in journalist murders. In April 2007, a CPJ delegation met with Ban, who expressed admiration for journalists and pledged to back U.N. efforts to support their work. Over the next several years, Ban made a number of supportive statements, but squandered a critical opportunity to defend press freedom when he failed to congratulate Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, the jailed human rights activist and journalist. He did however respond earlier this year when media groups
called on him to push for more information on the case of Prageeth Eknelygoda, a Sri Lankan columnist and cartoonist missing for more than a year. Ban asked the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO, which oversees press freedom, to look into the case .
-In many instances, special rapporteurs have performed with distinction. U.N. Special Rapporteur Frank LaRue and Catalina Botero, special rapporteur for freedom of expression for the Organization of American States (OAS), have criticized and drawn attention to press freedom abuses. A joint mission by LaRue and Botero to Mexico in August attracted widespread attention to rampant anti-press violence there. Too often however, institutions leave rapporteurs to take responsibility for protection of press freedom rather than enforce or vocalize support throughout.
-There have been some positive rulings through regional bodies – The European Court of Human Rights, for example, have issued significant rulings in press freedom cases from Russia and Azerbaijan. In an important 2010 decision in the case of Sanoma Uitgevers B.V. v. the Netherlands, the court put strict limits on the ability of governments to search newsrooms; the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has ordered member states to provide direct protection to at-risk journalists, and it has provided effective mediation when the rights of journalists have been violated – But these systems break down at the political level.
In general, CPJ would like to see strengthened mechanisms and greater adherence and enforcement to existing ones, such as judgements by the European Court of Human Rights (Azerbaijan and the case of Fatullayev is a good example of the inability of institutions to enforce decisions); more systematic international trial monitoring could also have an impact and better support for special rapporteurs; inclusion of media violence assessment and monitoring in the mandate of country commissions; greater coordination among international organizations is also important. The international community needs to more routinely link trends in impunity to all aspects of international relations including development and aid. Governments and intergovernmental organizations should also seek to engage more proactively on providing resources and training for governments to address weaknesses within their enforcement and justice systems. Stronger mechanisms, such as special visa programs, to provide havens (both temporary and indefinite) to journalists and human rights defenders who have received threats are also needed. International institutions from the United Nations to the AU, the OAS to the Council of Europe and the OSCE–need to speak out forcefully for press freedom and push back against member states who seek to block them from fulfilling this responsibility.
5. Can you identify particular successful examples of “naming and shaming” or other forms of political pressure exerted by governments, which have led to the release of jailed journalists, or effective prosecution of perpetrators of violent assaults on journalists, or other kinds of measurable improvement?
CUBA: One case where international advocacy combined with intergovernmental diplomacy was successful is Cuba. Spain working with the Catholic Church that negotiated the release of over a dozen Cuban journalists arrested in the Black Spring crackdown. The international FOE community campaigned vigorously to engage Spain on the issue.
IRAN: International pressure played a role in the release of high-profile journalists such as Newsweek correspondent Maziar Bahari and freelancer Roxana Saberi.
RUSSIA: Sustained international pressure has brought some improvement to RussiaSenior investigative officials reopened several unsolved journalist murder cases after meeting with a CPJ delegation in 2010, and, in April 2011, prosecutors won convictions in the 2009 murder of reporter Anastasiya Baburova in Moscow.
SRI LANKA: In 2010, J.S. Tissainayagam (Tissa), was released from prison in Sri Lanka after intensive campaigning by the FOE community. On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, 2010 the government announced that it would grant Tissainayagam a presidential pardon, but six weeks passed before he was handed back his passport. He had been released on bail in January and had lived in seclusion in Sri Lanka. He was first jailed in March 2008 and eventually indicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in August 2008. On World Press Freedom Day 2009, several world leaders condemned Tissa’s detention and press freedom violations in Sri Lanka including US President Obama and member of U.S. House of Representatives, Adam Schiff, one of the founders of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press. Lasantha Wikrematunga’s murder remains unsolved however, despite international condemnation by governments and UN officials.
6. How could, or should, the voices of stakeholders –representative media & human rights groups, civil society etc — be given a greater role or standing within national or international bodies, as part of efforts to achieve better compliance with commitments, so as to counter the trends towards more targeted violence as well as the growth of climates of impunity in some jurisdictions?
International bodies and national governments, particularly through their local representations (embassies, EU delegations, etc.) should engage in greater consultation with international and local groups, advocates and colleagues. There should, in addition to a higher level of response and engagement in unsolved cases of violence against journalists, be stronger responses and expressions of concern when journalists are threatened.
CPJ would like to see data on impunity in media violence used by international agencies more routinely in all levels of international relations.
We would also encourage development of opportunities for greater sharing of strategies across borders at both NGO and governmental levels.
7. How to you respond to and interpret the dissenting view voiced by certain governments or state authorities, which argue that persistent criticisms of governments which are identified by the CPJ (and others) as hostile to media freedom and freedom of expression on account of their laws, use or abuse of executive power, or alleged lack of transparency and of judicial independence, are unfounded, or are mere expressions of prejudice or hostility?
CPJ is exacting in its research and follows strict editorial protocols to ensure accuracy and fairness in how we report. We are an independent, nonpartisan organization that documents press freedom conditions around the globe and highlights abuses against the media wherever they take place.
8. How do you view the way in which influential news media, editors and journalists treat these issues as subjects of articles and programmes — is there too little or too much focus on them, and how effectively do journalists cover cases of killings and severe repression against other members of their own profession? Is there a case for a more concerted or formal campaign of advocacy by media practitioners or representative editors and journalists’ organisations to press for better protection of media workers from persecution and targeted violence?
Media coverage: –These issues get covered and particularly when cases are high profile ones such as Paul Klebnikov, Anna Politkovskaya, Hrant Dink et al. But the general consensus among CPJ and partner groups it has worked with, including those attending the 2010 impunity summit, is that there needs to be greater global awareness of how pervasive the issue is across regions. That fact that the vast majority of victims are local journalists working on local beats, vs foreign correspondents or internationally prominent journalists, is one that continually needs be reiterated when it comes to media coverage and public awareness.
On Security: there is definitely a case for a more concerted campaign to press for better protection as well as training to raise media standards in countries where this is part of the problem. Such an effort would be well served bringing together strategies from different regions where new approaches are being tested for example Mexico’s press recently agreed on a code for coverage of organized crime.