Mr Javier Solana
European Union High Representative
For the Common Foreign and Security Policy
Brussels - Belgium
Paris, 6 February 2004
Dear Mr High Representative,
Reporters Without Borders wishes to draw your attention to serious threats to press freedom in Colombia, ahead of your meeting in three days time with President Alvaro Uribe Vélez.
Our international press freedom organisation is first of all concerned about the effect of the anti-terror law adopted in December 2003 on the protection of sources. It authorises the military, without legal warrant, to make arrests, searches, tap phones and intercept private mail of people suspected of having links with terrorist activities. The absence of any legal control opens the door to abuse. If it is going to be used against journalists covering armed groups, it will threaten the protection of their sources and compromise the neutrality of the press.
Reporters Without Borders is also worried about a draft law on an alternative to prison proposed by the Colombian government in the framework of demobilisation of paramilitary groups (AUC).
It would offer militia members known to have committed atrocities, the chance to give up their weapons and be put under house arrest or pay a fine. But these armed groups have never stopped viewing journalists as targets. In 2001, head of the AUC Carlos Castaño said, "I cannot accept that journalism should become a weapon in the hands of one of the sides in the conflict."
Paramilitary groups murdered more than half of the 23 journalists who have been killed since 1999. In a country were impunity enjoyed by killers has given rise to repeated violence against the press, such a law will only encourage these murders.
Finally, 2003 again saw a heavy toll of attacks on press freedom: five journalists were killed, nearly 60 kidnapped, threatened or assaulted and more than 20 were forced to leave their region, if not the country itself. One journalist has been killed already in 2004 and one of his colleagues kidnapped and tortured. As a result we urge you to press Mr. Vélez to make it his government’s priority to counter impunity for killers so that the country can recover from this spiral of violence.
Extra funds should be found to investigate killings and assaults on journalists, not to give special treatment to a particular profession but to protect the people’s right to be informed. Reporters Without Borders considers that Colombia will never know peace, as long as this right is not respected.
Convinced that you will be open to this appeal, I would be very grateful if you could keep us informed about how this interview goes.