JUSTICE remains elusive for murdered journalists and their families as this year’s Global Impunity Index showed little to no improvement, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The Index, a list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and where governments fail to solve the crimes, was launched in Manila yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the murder of journalist/anti-graft crusader Marlene Esperat today.

Sierra Leone
Sri Lanka

Source: CPJ, 2009

Same as last year, the Philippines ranked sixth in a list of 14 countries with an impunity rating of 0.273 unsolved journalist murders per one million inhabitants. The country’s rating last year was 0.289.

CPJ Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin pointed out that the Philippines is arguably the highest ranking country in the Index that might be characterized as a ‘peacetime democracy.’

“The Philippines, with its exceptionally high number of killed journalists and especially low rate of prosecutions, has long been a poster child of impunity,” Crispin said.

Other ‘peacetime democratic nations’ in the list are Russia, Mexico, Bangladesh, Brazil, and India.

The CPJ Impunity Index calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population over a 10-year period. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.

The 2009 Impunity Index examined press murders that have taken place worldwide from January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2008. Only nations with five or more unsolved cases are included.

Crispin also highlighted cases in conflict-ridden countries such Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, emphasizing that all three are in the throes of full-blown armed conflicts, and yet the Philippines, nominally a ‘peacetime democracy,’ outranked two of these countries. The Philippines’s current score is higher than Afghanistan and Pakistan with impunity ratings of 0.248 and 0.062, respectively.

CPJ has recorded at least 24 unsolved cases of journalists’ murders in the Philippines over the last decade. Impunity rate in these cases hovers over 90 percent, one of the highest ratios in the world.

CPJ also found that:

  • All of the countries included in the 2008 Index remained on the list this year. Only slight changes were seen in the rankings and ratings of most countries.
  • Unsolved murders were reported in both Russia and the Philippines in 2008. Both countries have had stubbornly high rates of impunity in journalist slayings over the past decade.
  • South Asian journalists face particularly severe risks. The region’s nations make up nearly half of CPJ’s Index. Six are included on the 2009 list: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.
  • Even in wartime, journalists are more likely to be targeted and murdered than killed in combat. In Iraq, for example, murders account for nearly two-thirds of all media fatalities.
  • Although conditions in Iraq improved in 2008, authorities there have yet to solve a single murder case involving a journalist.
  • Worldwide, the vast majority of victims are local reporters covering sensitive topics such as crime, corruption, and national security in their home countries.

In the Philippines, CPJ criticized the Arroyo government for the still yawning impunity gap in the country. Despite the myriad task forces formed to solve journalists’ murders, Crispin said that the statistical reality reveals that no case has been given full justice since the Impunity Campaign was launched.

Even when Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno had already called at the national level for more concerted action, CPJ research showed that local courts have been ineffective in trying journalists’ murders.

Speaking at the launch, Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) legal counsel Atty. Prima Jesusa Quinsayas said that all of their eight active cases have either petitions for venue change or have already been transferred from the local courts to the Manila or Cebu regional trial courts.

Crispin said that the lack of political will, weak legal frameworks, and inadequacy of resources have already been identified in the Philippines, but not fully redressed. “If bullets are fired against journalists, and the government fails to adequately respond, then that country’s commitment to democracy is seriously in doubt.”

Prof. Luis Teodoro, deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), commented that democracy in the Philippines has indeed deteriorated. Teodoro pointed out that incidents such as the Manila Peninsula standoff, the flurry of libel cases filed by First Gentlemen Jose Miguel Arroyo against 43 journalists, and the pending Right of Reply bill all indicate threats to press freedom in the country.

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros also said that the upsurge in the killing of journalists is parallel to the increase in the killing of political activists. The sheer impunity in the country must suggest some kind of policy change, he said.

CPJ Impunity Campaign Coordinator Elisabeth Witchel added that the Philippine government must take hard steps to gain convictions by assigning sufficient prosecutors and investigators to these cases, moving trials to safe and impartial venues, protecting witnesses, and providing high-level political backing for all of these efforts.

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) mission, composed of multinational Southeast Asian journalists, has also called on the Arroyo administration to take the necessary steps to put a halt in the killing of journalists in the country. The SEAPA mission visited Manila from March 21 to 24 in observance of Esperat’s fourth death anniversary.

Read the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) mission to the Philippines statement.

The Index

Here are the 14 countries where journalists are murdered on a recurring basis and governments are unable or unwilling to prosecute the killers.

1. Iraq

Iraq tops the index for the second consecutive year. At least 88 journalists have been murdered since the war began in 2003, and not a single conviction has been obtained in these cases. Insurgents and militias are behind the vast majority of killings, while Iraqis working for local media have been the predominant targets. The victims include Haider al-Hussein, a reporter for the Baghdad daily Al-Sharq who was abducted on his way to work in May 2008. His body was found with signs of torture three days later. Although the frequency of journalist murders is slowing — nine in 2008, down from 27 in 2007 — Iraq remains the most dangerous place to be a journalist.

Impunity Index Rating: 2.983 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 1st with a rating of 2.821

2. Sierra Leone

Most of the nine unsolved murders took place in January 1999, when Revolutionary United Front rebels pushed into Freetown during Sierra Leone’s civil war. “Operation No Living Thing,” as the assault was called, targeted journalists and thousands of other citizens deemed anti-rebel. The victims included newspaper editor Paul Mansaray, who died with his wife, two young children, and a nephew when rebels shot him and set his house ablaze. There have been no convictions associated with these cases.

Impunity Index Rating: 1.552 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 2nd with a rating of 1.636

3. Somalia

Nearly two decades of civil unrest, clan warfare and insurgency have created deep-seated conditions of impunity in Somalia, where six journalist murders have gone unsolved in the last decade. The victims included Nasteh Dahir Farah, a reporter and vice chairman of the National Union of Somali Journalists, who was shot while walking home from an Internet cafe in Kismayo in June 2008.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.690 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 3rd with a rating of 0.610

4. Sri Lanka

As the government pursues a military victory over the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a surge in violence against journalists, including the fatal stabbing of television correspondent Paranirupasingham Devakumar, pushed the South Asian island nation up from five to four on the index. Government pledges to investigate and punish violence against the press proved hollow as journalists continued to be targeted by both Tamil groups and the military. At least nine journalist murders have gone unsolved.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.452 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 5th with a rating of 0.408

5. Colombia

With no work-related killings since 2006, Colombia has seen a steady drop in the journalist murder rate. The government credits increased security, although CPJ research shows that pervasive self-censorship has made the press less of a target. In a significant breakthrough, prosecutors recently obtained the convictions of a former mayor of Barrancabermeja and two other public officials charged with ordering the 2002 murder of radio commentator José Emeterio Rivas. Still, 16 of 20 journalist murders in the last decade have gone unsolved.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.347 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 4th with a rating of 0.439

6. Philippines

At least 24 journalist murders have gone unsolved in the last decade. This pervasive climate of impunity has led to repeated attacks on the press, with renewed levels of violence recorded in 2008. In just one week in August 2008, radio journalists Martin Roxas and Dennis Cuesta were fatally shot. CPJ research has shown local courts to be ineffective in trying journalist murders. Witnesses have been threatened, attacked, and killed while cases were being tried in local courts. Local judges have been reluctant to proceed with cases involving influential public figures.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.273 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 6th with a rating of 0.289

7. Afghanistan

Rampant drug trafficking and armed militias combine with a weak central government and local political corruption to create a wide berth for the killers of journalists. Seven murders have gone unsolved. In a departure from worldwide trends, most of the victims were international journalists covering the ongoing armed conflict. Three Afghan journalists were also killed. They included Abdul Samad Rohani, a correspondent for the BBC and the Pajhwok Afghan News service who was slain after reporting on the local drug trade in the dangerous area bordering Pakistan.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.248 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 7th with a rating of 0.279

8. Nepal

Political groups go unpunished in frequent attacks against the media. At least five journalist murders are unsolved, four of which are believed to have been perpetrated by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s decade-long civil conflict. Now the majority in a coalition government, the Maoists have yet to make good on assurances that the killers would not receive political protection. The victims include radio reporter Dekendra Raj Thapa, who was abducted and killed by Maoist rebels in 2004.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.178 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 8th with a rating of 0.185

9. Russia

Since 1999, 16 journalists have been murdered in retaliation for reporting on official corruption, unrest in the North Caucasus republics, and organized crime nationwide. All but one case has gone unsolved. As he took office in 2008, President Dmitry Medvedev promised that attacks against journalists would be investigated and prosecuted. Nevertheless, authorities have failed to obtain convictions in even high-profile killings such as the 2004 murder of Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov and the 2006 slaying of investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.106 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 9th with a rating of 0.098

10. Pakistan

In a deteriorating security situation, journalists have come under threat from a wide range of militant religious and criminal organizations, some with links to Pakistani intelligence. Three unsolved murders were reported in 2008, bringing the decade total to 10 and moving Pakistan up two places on the index. The victims include Abdul Razzak Johra, who was dragged from his home and shot in retaliation for his reporting on drug trafficking.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.062 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 12th with a rating of 0.051

11. Mexico

Untouchable drug cartels have made reporting on crime in Mexico the most dangerous beat in the Americas. In 2008, gunmen shot Alejandro Zenón Fonseca Estrada, a radio host who had waged an anticrime campaign, on a main street in Villahermosa, the state capital of Tabasco. In all, six murders have gone unsolved in the last decade. The country’s ranking, poor as it is, might actually be much worse: At least seven Mexican journalists have gone missing since 2005. Those reporters and editors are suspected to have died, although their cases are not yet included in this index.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.057 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 10th with a rating of 0.068

12. Bangladesh

Authorities have failed to solve at least seven journalist murders that occurred between 2000 and 2005. The victims typically covered crime, corruption, and political unrest. The unsolved cases include the brutal 2004 murder of Kamal Hossain, a crime reporter whose decapitated body was found hours after he was abducted from his home. Local media advocates say Bangladeshi authorities’ practice of dragging out investigations and repeatedly postponing trials erodes the drive for justice.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.044 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 11th with a rating of 0.056

13. Brazil

With five unsolved murders in the last decade, Brazil is a newcomer to the index this year. Journalists covering crime, corruption, and local politics have faced brutal consequences. Brazil, unlike most countries on this index, has had some success in prosecuting the killers of journalists, obtaining convictions in three slayings in the last decade. Five men, including four police officers, are now being tried in the 2007 slaying of Luiz Carlos Barbon Filho, a provincial journalist known for his investigative reporting on police corruption.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.026 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Unranked

14. India

Despite the country’s strong democratic tradition and robust press, seven journalist murders have gone unsolved in the last 10 years. CPJ research indicates journalists covering crime, corruption, and politics have been targets. They include Vikas Ranjan, a correspondent for the newspaper Hindustan who was shot by motorcycle-riding assailants in 2008. Ranjan had received recent threats after reporting on counterfeit merchandise and stolen goods trafficking.

Impunity Index Rating: 0.006 unsolved journalist murders per 1 million inhabitants

Last year: Ranked 13th with a rating of 0.005

Read more about the statistical breakdown for each country.

2 Responses to RP is world’s ‘poster child of impunity’ — CPJ


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