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Ending impunity for killers of journalists

The Damocles Network was set up by Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders) to try to end the impunity that so many killers and torturers of journalists enjoy. Funded by the European Union, it sends on-the-spot investigation teams (a legal expert and a journalist) to establish the facts and expose the lapses or ineffectiveness of state institutions. It then works with victims and their families through national and international legal authorities to bring those responsible to trial. It also organises publicity campaigns to draw public attention to the impunity that protects these criminals.

image 250 x 147 (JPEG) At a press conference in Madrid on 8 April, the honorary president of the Damocles Network, Judge Baltasar Garzón (the former Nobel Peace Prize nominee who issued a warrant to arrest former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in 1998) described the Network’s aims and its first actions, along with several Damocles board members. These included RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard, RSF president Fernando Castello, Paris lawyer William Bourdon, Paris Assize Court president Jean-Pierre Getti, French journalist and writer Christine Ockrent and Brussels lawyer Luc Walleyn.

Judge Garzón pointed out that for the first time in history, judges and journalists were working together to expose people who attack press freedom and to take legal action against those responsible for the worst abuses, such as murder, torture and making victims "disappear". Garzón added that journalists and the media "are, through the existence of press freedom, the guarantors of other freedoms and human rights." He proposed that the most serious attacks on journalists be included as crimes against humanity in the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal which, by this Thursday, will have been ratified by 60 countries. The tribunal will start work in July.

Over the past ten years, 513 journalists have been murdered for reporting on wars, exposing corruption, fraud and abuses and criticising politicians and business figures. In 95% of cases, the authorities have not found or even tried to find those responsible. Journalists and legal experts have already gone on joint fact-finding missions to Burkina Faso (to look into the December 1998 murder of Norbert Zongo), Russia (the disappearance of Vladmir Kirsanov in May last year) and Haiti (the murders of Jean Dominique in April 2000 and Brignol Lindor last December).

The Damocles Network has also begun legal action in Colombia in connection with the trial of the suspected killers of the very popular journalist and satirical writer Jaime Garzón in August 1999. In Ukraine, it has joined the suit being brought by the widow and mother of journalist Georgy Gongadze, who disappeared in September 2000.

Judge Garzón proposed that the Network protect the families of victims and witnesses of the crimes, which are usually committed in countries where personal safety is not guaranteed. He called on it to work closely with other international human rights networks to forge a solid front to work for the setting up of an international monitoring centre against impunity.

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