Families of media victims seek UN support

NEW YORK (MindaNews/09 September) — The families of the media victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao province have asked the United Nations to help them achieve justice and expedite the prosecution and conviction of those involved in the massacre.

In a letter to Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, president of the United Nations General Assembly, Justice Now!, which groups the families of the 32 media workers who were among the 58 killed in the slaughter, called on the UN “to vigilantly monitor this case and to take action,” through the body’s mechanisms and instruments.

“We appeal for your help in preventing a denial of justice,” the families said in their letter.

They cited the slow pace in the prosecution of the 196 suspects in the massacre, including members of the politically powerful Ampatuan clan.

“Three years and yet justice for the victims of what can only be called a crime against humanity has continued to remain elusive,” they said.

They pointed out that nearly 100 of the suspects remain at large and only two of the principal suspects have been arraigned.

“Meanwhile, at least three vital witnesses have been murdered, while we, the families of the victims, as well as those of other witnesses, continue to be harassed and offered bribes,” they said in their letter.

Nestor Burgos Jr., chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), formally handed the letter to Nasser at the UN headquarters in New York on Sept. 7.

Burgos was part of an international delegation composed of the National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) of Qatar and media organizations led by the International Federation of Journalists, which met with Nasser to transmit recommendations for the protection of journalists and safety of journalists.

The recommendations were issued following a conference of journalists held on January 23 in Doha that was organized by the NHRC.

The delegation also included Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri, NHRC chair; Jim Boumelha, IFJ president; Omar Faruk, president of the Federation of African Journalists; Celso Schroder, president of the Federación de Periodistas de América Latina y el Caribe; Mohamed Makram, general secretary of the Federation of Arab Journalists; and Gianfranco Fattorini, representing the Geneva-based Press Emblem Campaign.

“The killing of journalists continues to increase worldwide despite the plethora of international instruments, international human rights laws, universal human rights laws, covenants, declarations and resolutions which are simply ignored by many governments” said Jim Boumelha “Our message to the General Assembly is to use whatever mechanisms it has in its power to force member states to discharge rigorously their responsibility under international laws to protect journalists and put a stop to impunity”.

Since the Security Council agreed to the much acclaimed resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists in conflict and on impunity, over 600 journalists have died, the great majority of them murdered in their own countries, he said.

In a press conference held after the meeting, Nasser voiced his support to initiatives of the delegation to improve the safety of journalists.

“It is unacceptable that journalists are being murdered every year but the killers often go free. I strongly support the efforts of the (NHRC) and encourage all peace-loving member states, civil society actors and the media sector to support endeavours leading to the endorsement of the recommendation of the (Doha) conference,” Nasser said.

“As President of the General Assembly, I reject all forms of attack, unlawful persecution or killing of journalists whether they are working in the new or traditional media,” he said.

Nasser said the recommendations of the Doha conference, were distributed by the GA president to all the 193 members of the UN.

The recommendations asked the UN to, among others, develop new binding tools for states to accept the protection of journalists as a standing obligation, to adopt reforms to their mechanisms and procedures such as through regional security organisations, to expand the mandates of Special Rapporteurs and relevant bodies, develop further monitoring mechanisms, intrusive inspections and mandatory sanctions and, finally, create a unit to follow up media cases at the Human Rights Council.

“We need renewed action by the UN to start forcing member states to implement current provisions but to also develop new tools. It is clear that the incremental approach has proven insufficient and the IFJ will be spearheading moves to plug the gaps that allowed impunity to flourish” Boumelha said. (Nimfa Rueda/NUJP United States chapter)