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Ampatuan Massacre report shows a "horrific culture of impunity"

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 23 January 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in launching the report Ampatuan Massacre: Five Years On. The report represents the findings of the International Solidarity Mission to the Philippines in November last year marking the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre in 2009. To date, not a single killer has been convicted and at least four witnesses have been killed with the trial of 193 suspects expected to drag out for many years.

IFJ acting director Jane Worthington said: “On November 23, 2009, the Philippines showed the world in the most horrific way what impunity looks like. The slaughter of 58 people – including 32 journalists – in an “unprecedented act of political violence” in Southern Mindanao was, and is, the single biggest killing of media workers in history.”

Today, Ampatuan Massacre: Five Years On sheds light on the country's horrific culture of impunity and hands down a series of recommendations to the Aquino government. It also outlines recommendations for justice and law enforcement reform, calls for further international support and media commitments to journalist safety, including:

- President Aquino and his administration to publicly condemn all acts of violence against media workers.
- Promote the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill.
- Commit to providing ongoing financial support to the families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.
- Ensure Task Force Usig sets targets for the arrest and prosecution of the remaining 84 suspects at large in the Ampatuan massacre and for the arrest of masterminds in the Esperat and Ortega killings and to report by May 3, 2015, UN World Press Freedom Day.
- Investigate thoroughly, prosecute and report on the 54 “priority” unsolved cases of media killings outlined by Justice Secretary, Leila De Lima, and publicly disclose the progress on these cases before November 2, 2015.
- Ensure a mechanism for the immediate transfer of venue for cases in regional areas where suspects may influence proceedings.
- Adopt journalist protection initiatives and legislative reforms implemented in countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Honduras, including recognition of media workers as an “at risk” group and prevention strategies that include much-needed regional and federal structures for protecting human rights.
- Conduct an independent review of the state witness protection program to determine the efficacy and financial investment required to ensure witnesses are guaranteed the expected level of protection.
- Enact a statutory framework for the nation's law enforcement officials to make agencies more accountable, through tailored mechanisms of internal review and Parliamentary oversight to report on attacks on journalists within a designated timeframe.
- Train military and police in their responsibilities for the safety and security of citizens, including media personnel. Ensure they are aware of their obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1738; encourage cooperation between media and the state's agencies in the future investigation of journalist attacks.

See the full list of recommendations

The IFJ, which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries, conducted its first mission to the Philippines in the aftermath of the massacre to investigate, together with the NUJP, the government's efforts to secure justice for the victims of the massacre. The IFJ has conducted regular missions since and issued recommendations to President Aquino. To date, the IFJ has received no communication from the leader who promised justice for victims in his 2010 election campaign.

The International Solidarity Mission, from November 18 to 24, travelled to Mindanao and Manila. In Quezon City in Mindanao, the mission joined a 16-car convoy to the massacre site on the eve of the anniversary and met with victims' families and members of the local media community in Maguindanao province before visiting the gravesites of some of those killed. In Manila the mission had meetings with the government's office, Department of Justice's Secretary Leila De Lime and Taskforce Usig, which is charged with investigating the nation's high number of journalist killings. In Manila, the mission also held a press conference where it declared the country an “epicentre of impunity”, outlining how journalists killed in the intervening years since the since the massacre now outnumbered it.

Ampatuan Massacre: Five Years On details the current situation facing journalists in the Philippines and urgent need for multilateral action as the slow pace of the enormous trial of 193 suspects drags into its fifth year.

Australian representative Mike Dobbie, who has led all IFJ missions since 2009, said: “The ingrained culture of impunity that is crippling the Philippines undermines society and kneecaps democracy. It has flourished under a broken judicial system that fails to dedicate sufficient resources to investigate murders and takes far too long to produce justice if a case ever makes it to trial. It repeatedly denies justice to the victims of crime and encourages wrongdoers to commit ever-escalating acts of violence. It prevents legitimate scrutiny of the powerful and encourages corruption. It muzzles the media and prevents them from carrying out their duties. It promotes self-censorship amid a climate of fear and intimidation.”

NUJP Chairperson Rowena Paraan said: “It must be stressed that the killing of journalists in the Philippines did not stop with the Ampatuan Massacre. At least 34 journalists have been killed since then. The main challenge for the NUJP and the media community is to put justice for the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre issue at the top of the national government's agenda. The murderers must be held to account.”

IFJ Asia Pacific acting director and lead for the International Solidarity Mission, Jane Worthington said: “The Philippines Government and President Aquino can no longer continue to be inactive on culture of impunity that is stifling the country.The Philippines is not the only country with a problem of dead and dying journalists. But countries such as Colombia and Mexico have taken meaningful steps to solving this complex but important issue. It is achievable.”

The report was launched 62 months after the massacre took place.

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