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Urgent need to protect journalists brought to attention of IACHR during visit to Guatemala

With 19 deaths and over 250 attacks on journalists since 2013, press associations have asked the IACHR to recommend Guatemala create a Program for the Protection of Journalists as soon as possible.

In this 11 March 2015 file photo, a copy of the front page of the newspaper
In this 11 March 2015 file photo, a copy of the front page of the newspaper "El Periodico de Guatemala", that reads in Spanish "Journalists killed", hangs on the main gate of the Presidential House during a protest

AP Photo/Moises Castillo, File

This is a translation of an article originally published on cerigua.org on 31 July 2017.

THE ALLIANCE OF PRESS ENTITIES WELCOMES the delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on the occasion of their visit to Guatemala to evaluate the human rights situation, receive information from authorities and civil society, and look at issues related to justice, citizen security, inequality, discrimination, and freedom of expression.

Our organisations also welcome the presence of the Commission's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza, who is accompanying the IACHR on this on-site visit to our country.

As a journalists' union, we wish to once again bring to the Rapporteur's attention the reports that we have sent him regarding the dangerous and hostile situation that we as journalists face while carrying out our duties, the ongoing impunity in the murder of journalists, and the many actors that restrict, attack, and violate freedom of expression, of the press, and the right to information - a situation that continues to reign despite the decisions and actions that the Attorney General and the Human Rights Prosecutor have taken.

Since 2013, 19 cases of violent deaths of journalists have been reported, though it has not been possible to verify, due to the slowness of authorities, whether these murders were directly related to the practice of journalistic work.

Since 2012, when Guatemala underwent a Universal Periodic Review, over 258 attacks have occurred; the actions of groups involved in organised crime and drug trafficking have led to censorship and self-censorship among journalists, thereby violating press freedom and society's right to information - there are certain touchy subjects that our colleagues cannot cover, particularly in rural areas where they feel the most vulnerable. Almost all of the murders have occurred in the provinces. Politicians, mayors, and deputies have also censored or threatened reporters and journalists.

From the year 2000 to date, 37 journalists and other communicators ["comunicadores sociales"] have been assassinated and, despite repeated efforts to create a Program for the Protection of Journalists, a commitment made by the State of Guatemala in Geneva in 2012 and ratified on several occasions, there is still nothing concrete.

On 18 July 2016, in front of the journalistic community and senior government officials, President Jimmy Morales fully endorsed the proposal we made in response to the safety of our colleagues, particularly in rural areas, as well as the call made by the UN Human Rights to governments to create mechanisms that seek to decrease the risks that journalists face.

At the request of the Government, UNESCO is the official partner for the process to build the program, endorsed by the president - it considers the need to create a suitable environment where on can practice journalism, to train officials and authorities to respect the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and the press, and to establish a unit that monitors attacks so that an official and verifiable database can be created.

At its annual General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico last June, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted a resolution which, among other things, calls upon governments to adopt special measures to diminish the risks reporters face, fight against impunity and offer greater protection for journalists.

More than a year has passed and the process has still not begun. We have received support from senior authorities, such as Chancellor Carlos Raúl Morales, Human Rights Prosecutor Jorge De León Duque and Attorney General Thelma Aldana. The main international organisations that advocate for freedom of expression and press freedom have also expressed their concern to the government and voiced support for our demands. Among them are Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Inter-American Press Association, the IFEX Network, the Latin American Federation of Journalists, and Freedom House. Several media organisations are keeping abreast of progress in this process.

For these reasons, we respectfully REQUEST that Dr. Lanza address this issue of utmost importance in his meetings with authorities and, above all, that he RECOMMEND the immediate creation of the Program for the Protection of Journalists which already has the endorsement of President Jimmy Morales.

Guatemala, 31 July 2017

CERIGUA
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS DE GUATEMALA
CAMARA GUATEMALTECA DE PERIODISMO
CAMARA DE LOCUTORES PROFESIONALES DE GUATEMALA
CRONISTAS DEPORTIVOS GUATEMALTECOS

ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS MARQUENSES
ASOCIACIÓN DE PRENSA DE HUEHUETENANGO
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS COMUNITARIOS DE VERAPAZ
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS Y COMUNICADORES SOCIALES DE ALTA VERAPAZ
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS DE JUTIAPA
RED DE COMUNICADORES SOCIALES DE CHIQUIMULA
ASOCIACIÓN DE COMUNICADORES DE SANTA ROSA
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS DE JALAPA
ASOCIACIÓN DE COMUNICADORES "OMAR AGUIRRE" HUEHUETENANGO
ASOCIACIÓN DE PERIODISTAS Y COMUNICADORES SOCIALES DE SOLOLÁ
ASOCIACIÓN DE PRENSA QUETZALTECA (APQ)

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