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Media freedom and end to violence against reporters are keys to peace, say journalists

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - 24 March 2010 - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today welcomed the report of the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari.

During the thirteenth session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Shamsul Bari presented his report in which he expressed deep concerns about the human rights and humanitarian situation in Somalia. In the report, he highlighted violations of the right to life and physical integrity, infringements on freedom of opinion and expression, violence against women and other human rights abuses.

He urged all parties to the conflict to come together for the sake of peace in Somalia, where the people have suffered one of the worst nightmares in history from which they deserve to be released. He also stressed the urgent need to establish an appropriate mechanism to combat impunity and hold the perpetrators of the potential war crimes and massive human rights and humanitarian law violations accountable.

NUSOJ, which was represented in the UN Human Rights Council by IFJ Information and Human Rights Officer Ernest Sagaga, said, "Violence in Somalia continues to have a devastating effect on the Somali people. Violations of freedom of expression and of the press have reached unprecedented levels, resulting in a serious crisis for Somali journalism due to impunity, insecurity and self-censorship. As a result, we have seen more and more journalists being forced out of their local areas, and others abandoning their profession. Somali media continue to face deadly assaults from a number of groups including secret, known and unknown, armed, extremists, terrorists, political and apolitical organizations, all seeking to control the media and manipulate it to their advantage through the use of violence, intimidation and restrictions, particularly by the Al-Shabaab group."

"Somali journalists have become today the most persecuted and brutalized defenders of human rights and they are hunted because of their commitment to standing up for and telling the truth," said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General, who welcomed the recommendations in the report.

Omar Faruk added that "any attempt by Somali journalists to raise the visibility of victims, or expose crimes against humanity and human rights violations heightens the potential risk to their profession, life, rights and liberty". The suppression of press freedom and freedom of expression make the Somali people feel meek, voiceless and invisible, Faruk stated.

He said that press freedom, respect for the rights of journalists and guarantees to protect the right of pluralist expression were needed to bring about peace, reconciliation and pave the way towards a new era of democratic development.

"On behalf of Somali journalists and the entire freedom of expression community in Somalia, we thank and applaud the UN Independent Expert for Human Rights Situation in Somalia for the report revealing the plight of Somali people, and for giving a voice to the innocent civilians of Somalia", Faruk declared.

"The state of impunity in the country has reached an extreme level in the past few years. Journalists have become the prime victim of such impunity across the nation and the perpetrators continue to find shelter under the protection of the armed political groups", said Sagaga, IFJ Human Rights Officer, who spoke at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of IFJ and its Somalia affiliate, NUSOJ.

During today's session, IFJ and NUSOJ called for collective, urgent international action to make the violators of human rights, including perpetrators of unpunished crimes against journalists, accountable through international law. "We urge the world community to help restore freedom, justice and peace in Somalia. The international community has to act promptly to defend our freedoms and enable the Somali people to live in peace and harmony" Sagaga said to the Council.

"Justice for the Somali civilian victims is a precondition to a peaceful, stable and democratic Somalia", Sagaga concluded.

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