Tag Archives: Impunity

Photo Contest to End Impunity

Gotta hand it to the folks at IFEX. 

They just launched a contest that can involve anyone and everyone around the world. This time it is a photo contest to combat impunity.

What are the guidelines?

Submissions should convey the impact of impunity on freedom of expression. Suggested themes are:

  • The courage of those fighting impunity
  • Activism, protests, and challenging injustice
  • A culture of fear and silence
  • Individuals targeted for exposing corruption, human rights violations, and organised crime, while the perpetrators go free
  • Corruption, broken judicial systems and justice denied

I can think of loads of examples in just about every country I have lived in and visited.

The contest is to highlight International Day to End Impunity, which is November 23. The deadline for submission is November 3.

According to IFEX, they picked November 23 because it is the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, the single deadliest day for journalists in recent history. Activities for the day are designed to raise public awareness and showcase the work of organizations working for justice for those being persecuted for practicing their right to freedom of expression.

Full rules and guidelines here.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

ICFJ working to improve journalism in Latin America

Too often too many journalists see government agencies as only the enemy. A place to attack for information.

Hell, I often think that way too. Way too many bureaucrats think that because they have a top-secret clearance (or just access to info that I don’t but need for a story) they have a god-given right to NOT talk to me and not release the information. Even though that information is a.) not classified and b.) the public’s property.

But every now and then a government agency (or two) does the right thing and actually promotes freedom of the press and increased access to government information.

In this case, the US Agency for International Development and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department are promoting all these good things in other countries. It is a good and proper thing they are doing.

Working with the International Center for Journalists, these two US government offices are running a multi-year program — which means it is exempt from the current government shutdown — “to build the capacity of investigative journalists in eight target countries, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.”

  • The participating journalists will attend series of country-specific workshops on digital and mobile security and developing investigative projects beginning later this month.
  • The journalists will also engage in a  four-week online training course on developing transnational investigative reporting projects along with security protocols for editors and reporters.
  • The ICFJ will help provide online resources and access to database sets that are useful for news reports and are searchable in Spanish.
  • Reporters, editors and media owners will get training in sustainability models and strategies so that what they learned will not go to waste. The training will include how to develop a Latin American Investigative Network of journalists and news organizations.
  • Lastly, the reporters will learn new digital research tools that will help them cover specialized topics of interest.

These are excellent countries for this program.

All of the countries suffer from government institutions that are even more hesitant than their USA counterparts to share information. They are in countries where moneyed interests don’t want their secrets revealed and who are often all to ready to pay for thugs to intimidate and kill nosy journalists. They also come from places where the news organizations often spend less on quality journalism training than even the most cash-strapped USA news group.

In the specific cases of Nicaragua and Ecuador, the journalists are facing hostile governments that have a long-distance relationship with the concept of free and independent media. The other countries do not face government intimidation, rather physical dangers come from gangs and thugs.

The US agencies are providing a leg up and a helping hand to the journalists who want to do their jobs properly and who want to hold their governments and business interests accountable to the public. (I know several journalists like this in Honduras. Their biggest problems are intimidation by the gangs. Many also face lack of proper financial and training support from their publishers.)

Rather than shy away from such US government support, American journalism organizations should embrace, encourage and work with these agencies to help improve the quality of journalism in the developing world. Between the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors there are more than enough qualified journalists with the necessary journalism and language skills to help around the world.

And if the national organizations won’t step up, maybe some local chapters should.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, South America

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup

And

Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

March for justice in Mexico

Journalists is the Mexican state of Veracruz marched over the weekend to demand protection for journalists and for the government find and prosecute those responsible for killing investigative journalist Regina Martinez.

Government officials say they have the killer of Martinez, who was found beaten and suffocated in her house. But her co-workers don’t believe them.

The man convicted of the murder is Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva. According to the government versions, Martinez was killed because she interrupted a robbery by  Hernandez Silva.

Unfortunately for the government, Hernandez Silva says he was forced to confess after being tortured for several days. The editors at Martinez’s publication, Proceso, don’t accept the government story, pointing out that none of the fingerprints in the Martinez apartment match Hernandez Silva.

The local authorities did not do themselves any favors when, according to Proceso, some current and former state officials issued orders to capture a reporter who questioned the verdict and “to do him harm if he resists.”

After the national government stepped in and expressed its skepticism of the local version of events, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte  met with editors of Proceso and promised a full investigation.

See original story: Mexican journalists march against attacks on press

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The threat comes from drug cartels and corrupted government officials. Since 1992, 28 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico. Of those 28 cases, 22 have not been solved.

The national government has stepped up its efforts to protect journalists and to deal with the lack of action by local governments.

Late last week the national legislature passed a bill giving the federal government jurisdiction over crimes against journalists. It only awaits the president’s signature.

Read more about the bill and the problem of impunity in Mexico: In Mexico, a movement and a bill against impunity

 

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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Killings, Mexico

Human Rights stories deserving follow ups

Freedom House published its Best and Worst of Human Rights in 2012.

Many of these items got little press coverage — all to the bad in terms of understanding the rest of the world.  And many need regular updates. Here are my suggestions of follow ups:

BEST

LGBTI Victories in the Western Hemisphere

Some of the highlights as noted by Freedom House:

  • President Obama voiced public support for gay marriage for the first time
  • Three states—Washington, Maryland, and Maine—passed laws allowing same-sex marriage.
  • The first openly gay woman was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  • In Argentina the Senate passed legislation that allows gender to be legally changed without medical or judicial approval, and includes sex-change surgery and hormone treatment in government health insurance plans.
  • Chile passed an antidiscrimination law that penalizes all forms of discrimination. Although not specifically written to protect LGTBI rights, the measure was spurred by the brutal killing an openly gay man.
  • Even Cuba has jumped on the bandwagon, electing its first transgender person to municipal office.
  • Same-sex marriage is legal in Canada and some parts of Mexico.

And add that the LGBTI community in Honduras has been getting more vocal and demanding more protection from acts of violence. The community is getting support from a number of government with embassies in Honduras, but the leading force is the U.S. embassy.

Follow up is needed to ensure that newly enacted or proposed laws banning discrimination based on sexual identity or preference are followed. (The law is a fungible commodity in too many countries in the Western Hemisphere.)

The reason the protection of the LGBTI community is of importance to American readers is because how a country treats any minority group — such as this one — tells a lot about the morals and standards of that country and its people.  It also tells a lot about how well received tourists from different groups will be received in that country.

Passage of the Magnitsky Act

The U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, named after Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died in jail after exposing a multimillion-dollar fraud by Russian officials. The law places visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials involved in human rights abuses. President Obama signed the legislation on December 14 despite harsh objections from the Kremlin. This law could set a precedent for how the United States and other free societies address gross human rights violations around the world. The European Parliament has endorsed the adoption of similar legislation.

Reporting on how well this act — and others like it — are enforced is vital to keeping the issue of human rights (including press freedom) in the forefront. How well the law is enforced will also tell a lot about how the U.S. government bureaucracy deals with the thorny issue of human rights.

Survival of the Tunisian Revolution

The country has not yet suffered the fate of many of its neighbors in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. Varying degrees of instability and repression persist in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and particularly Syria, but Tunisia has made slow if uneven gains in its democratic transition. The constitutional drafting process is creeping forward without the bitter conflicts seen in Egypt. As the country approaches the two-year anniversary of the revolution, however, economic struggles have led to anti-government protests, one of which left nearly 200 people wounded, and support for the ruling coalition has definitively waned. The constitution is two months overdue, and there have been some concerning violations of press freedom. Despite these challenges, Tunisia continues to provide a positive example to the wider region.

The best way to send a message to the anti-democracy people in Tunisia is to make sure reporting continues. Journalists need to show where progress is being made and where it is being hindered — and by whom.

And this is important to the United States — beyond humanitarian and human rights reasons — because of Tunisia’s  location and the natural resources that are vital to us and our European partners.

WORST

Civil War in Syria

Anyone exposed to even the slightest bit of news knows that the civil war in Syria is the worst human rights and humanitarian catastrophe in the world today. The estimated death toll is at 42,000, with no end in sight. The  Committee to Protect Journalists report an alarming 32 reporters have been killed while covering the conflict.

Continued coverage is necessary to keep pressure on the rest of the world to do something to end the tragedy.

For U.S. readers, the issue is not just human rights but also the instability this war causes in an area vital to U.S. and global geo-political interests.

Devastation in Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most resource-rich countries on the African continent. And yet it has been gutted by a combination of colonialism, corrupt and ineffective government, ethnic conflict, and a succession of armed militias and rebel groups that have raped and pillaged their way through the countryside, often using conscripted child soldiers. As many as five million people have died since the late 1990s. The international community has largely turned a blind eye to the country’s seemingly endless crisis, perhaps because there does not appear to be an easy solution.

Coup and Extremism in Mali

As in Congo, the horrific human rights situation in Mali was not caused by any single event. Rather it was a cascade of disasters that included a military coup, a reinvigorated Tuareg separatist movement, an influx of hard-line Islamist militants, and the combined effects of long-term drought, poverty, and corruption. There are widespread reports of rape and forced marriage, as well as the recruitment of child soldiers.

Paying attention to Congo and Mali may seem outside the usual assignment areas for U.S. media. Yet, the fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa. These are potential trading partners for America, if we can help the individual countries stabilize and develop viable middle classes.

The natural resources from Africa are badly needed by industrialized countries and industrializing countries. That means to keep out industries growing, the United States needs these items. It also means that other  countries less friendly to us — i.e. China — also need these raw materials.

In the end it comes down to a competition of ideals and principles. China is willing to dump billions of dollars into a country with no strings attached other than being given access to its raw materials. The United States, on the other hand demands transparency and civil rights from aid recipients. It is no wonder that the war lords and thugs prefer doing business with China. It is also no wonder that the people of these war-torn countries prefer U.S. aid

It is vital for U.S. citizens to know how and why the U.S. government spends money on development programs. It is also important to put that expenditure in perspective: Less than one-half of 1% of the federal budget is spent on ALL development programs — that includes the salaries of ALL USAID employees in the United States and around the world. Not the 25% most Americans think.

Russia’s Precipitous Decline

Since Vladimir Putin’s tightly controlled reelection as president in March, the political situation in Russia has become increasingly dismal, with some experts comparing it to the Soviet era. The government has enacted numerous pieces of legislation that have a harmful impact on human rights and the functioning of civil society. Most disturbingly, one new law requires civil society organizations that receive foreign funds to register as “foreign agents” or face possible criminal charges. In a related development, USAID was forced by the Russian government to withdraw from the country. The government re-criminalized libel, curbed internet freedom, outlawed “homosexual propaganda,” and imposed additional restrictions on public gatherings. Independent voices, some within the government, who have tried to speak out against this wave of legislation have been expelled, arrested, or otherwise muzzled.

Russia is a major power and sits on some of the greatest reserves of precious metals and rare earth in the world. It is a player that needs to be explained to the American people. It is not the Soviet Union and it is not THE major geo-political threat to the United States. But it is a great power that is not using that power to the betterment of its people.

There were expectations after the fall of communism that a strong Russian middle class would grow and the democratic instincts of the people would be fulfilled. After years of failed leadership, Putin has returned as a strongman to take away democratic hopes and aspirations. In the process he is also taking away the incentive for a viable middle class to grow and prosper.

Bottom line: Any country that has thousands of missiles aimed at us is one that news organizations should be looking at more closely.

Repression in Bahrain, Other Gulf States

After an independent report commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad uncovered widespread human rights abuses committed during the violent suppression of a protest movement in February 2011, the government promised to implement the recommended reforms. Not only has the regime failed to enact anything other than minor cosmetic changes, seemingly designed to mollify the international community, it has also continued on a path of repression. Impunity for the security forces and censorship persist. Journalists and human rights groups, including Freedom House, have been repeatedly denied entry to the country to report on these abuses. (Most recently Nicholas Kristof was seized and deported from Bahrain.) Sadly, Bahrain is not the only Gulf state in decline. A ban on “unlicensed” peaceful demonstrations was passed in Kuwait. And Oman has jailed dozens of people for making critical comments about the regime.

But why worry about repressive actions that only affect the people of those countries? Violent police action against demonstrators leads to more violence by demonstrators which leads to more repressive actions which leads to more violence and societal disruption and so on. The problem is that too few reports from the region make the connection between the violence in a country or region with Main Street USA.

Anything that takes place in the volatile Arab/Persian Gulf should be of interest to the America people. Besides the meme that we need the oil from the region — actually we don’t get that much, but our trading partners do — there is also the fertilizer that comes out of the area. Without Qatari, Kuwaiti, Saudi or Omani urea and ammonia, most of the American crops would fail. And THAT is something worth worrying about.

I would think the fertilizer angle is just one that could be put to better use by people trying to tell the story of repressive regimes in the Gulf region.

The Menace of Blasphemy Laws

The online dissemination of an offensive film that mocked Islam and sparked violent anti-American riots and protests in more than two dozen countries served as a reminder of the pernicious nature of laws that prohibit blasphemy in many parts of the world. These laws have a chilling effect on free expression and are often used to justify violence, repress religious minorities, and settle personal grudges rather than combat intolerance. A Freedom House special report shows there is no evidence that restricting speech reduces religious intolerance. In fact, the evidence shows that prohibitions on blasphemy actually lead to a wide range of human rights abuses. This does not prevent some Islamic leaders from using global bodies like the United Nations to push for international norms that prohibit blasphemy.

This is not the sharia law so feared by the U.S. Tea Party. This is worse because any government dominated by one religion can use laws against bad mouthing the dominate religion to shut down freedom of speech, press and assembly.

Singapore has several examples of how laws to prevent “callous and reckless remarks on racial or religious subjects” can be used to shut down any discussions the government wants shut down. The Vatican has gone to court to fight images that it considered “offensive.” One case involved a German satirical magazine that published a photo-shopped image of the pope’s vestments stained with urine.

So far the U.S. and its democratic allies have been able to hold off a full-court press by Islamic countries to have the United Nations endorse blasphemy laws. What is critical for the American people to know is that this is not just an Islamic/Third-World thing. There are too many religious fanatics around — including in the United States — that would be quite happy with blasphemy laws but only for the protection of their version of their religion.

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Filed under Africa, Censorship, Connections, Freedom of Information, Harassment, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

For some a game; For too many reality

International End the Impunity Day is November 23.

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange site has a digital game designed to draw attention to impunity and motivate more people to engage in the issue called Break The Silence.

IFEX launches online game for Day to End Impunity campaign

In one scenario in this game, you are a Twitter user in the Americas. Drug cartels and organised crime have infiltrated the political, judicial and law enforcement systems in your country.

In another, you are a musician in Africa. Your government is handing down orders to silence artistic expression. Those who challenge the status quo are being censored, and those who persevere are being threatened and intimidated.

In a third, you are a protester in the Middle East, in a country with an established authoritarian regime in power. Voices of dissent are violently suppressed by the police and military.

In each scenario, you must navigate through a labyrinth where others are doing everything they can to silence your voice.

In the TWITTER scenario, the opening screen is:

Drug cartels and organised crime have infiltrated the political, judicial and law enforcement systems in your country.

Those who speak out about the corruption are often faced with threats, attacks and even murder. These crimes are rarely punished.

What will you risk to be heard?

Followed by

You witness an exchange of cash between a known drug lord and the chief of police. You decide to tweet about it on your Twitter account.

So far, this all sounds familiar to anyone living in Honduras or Mexico.

From this point you make choices about whether to keep pushing ahead or back off. Depending on how you decide the danger to you and your family increases or decreases.

The game accurately describes what can (and does ) happen to people who stand up to narcos and dictators.

Before people start complaining about all the money “wasted” on programs overseas to break up the narcos and support democratic forces, they should play this game and see what it really costs to not stand up to these thugs.

 

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Filed under Censorship, Corruption, Press Freedom

Decriminalize libel movement has legs

A while back I posted a piece on how the congress of the Dominican Republic was pushing through a packet of bills that would make it publishing or airing offensive expressions against the top government leadership  and members of congress a criminal offense with imprisonment of two to three years and large financial penalties.

And I cannot believe the response it got from journalists in the DR. It confirms what I said about how the journalists in the Dominican Republic fight fiercely for their rights.

The comments also showed the frustration with some of the media outlets and the frustration of waging a battle against entrenched interests in a country known for its corruption. (Ranking at Transparency International of 129 of 186 countries rated. BTW, that is the same ranking as Honduras, the Philippines, Syria and Armenia. All countries well-known for high levels of corruption.)

The comments were interesting:

  • If that bill goes through they will have to start building new jails, many more and prepare for what’t to come, because we won’t fighting, This is something that they are doing out of fear, but this time, for the first time in decades we will not let them pay us with circus and bread.
  • WE WILL NEVER BACK DOWN! THEY CAN TRY WHAT THEY WILL ; THEY WILL HAVE TO BUILD NEW JAILS TO FIT ALL OF US!!!
  • I live in Dominican Republic, plenty of local groups are protesting against this and the new huge taxes the government has just approved, but it seems that most of the local press is being paid and pushed by the government to avoid commenting about what’s happening.
  • The local press appears to be ran by the same people governing this poor country. They can’t keep educated young professionals from speaking our minds and for trying to defend ourselves from the abuse of this outrage.

The last comment offers hope. Young people are using new media to demonstrate and push back against the government and its attempts to silence criticism of the government.

The legislation in the Dominican congress has the country moving in a direction opposite of its Caribbean neighbors and with democracies around the world.

Unfortunately the issue is not resolved. The Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Press Institute have campaigns against criminalizing libel.

The battle in this area can directly affect journalists from other countries. The way I read the proposed DR legislation, ANY criticism of government leaders (as listed in the bill) could lead to criminal charges. That means anyone from anywhere who wrote of  possible corruption or poor performance by a Dominican official in any publication (or website) could be arrested if he/she stepped foot in the DR.

Not exactly a law that helps support a fragile democracy.

The journalists in the DR — and in the other struggling countries — could use some statements of support from more journalism groups. It would be nice to see the SPJ, the NABJ, the NAHJ and the AAJA speak out on this issue and offer support.

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Filed under Censorship, Connections, Corruption, Harassment