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CPJ Releases Statistics on Killing of Journalists - 2002-06-07

In Latin America, 67 journalists were killed over the last decade, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. But only in a small number of cases have those responsible been brought to justice. This is one of the conclusions of a new study by the committee, which has released statistics on the killing of journalists worldwide over the past decade.

The committee says 389 journalists were killed worldwide between 1992 and 2001, most of them murdered in direct reprisal for their reporting. Just 16 percent died in crossfires in wars, while 77 percent were targeted for their work.

Latin America was no exception, where according to the organization's statistics, 67 journalists were killed over the past decade. Colombia, with 29 victims, tops the list. But there was a significant number of murders in other countries in the hemisphere, such as Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala.

The committee's Latin American researcher, Marylene Smeets, says most of these cases are still unsolved. "Latin America is, unfortunately, no exception to the general rule, that most of the killings of journalists over the last decade are still surrounded by impunity," she said. "There's only a small number of cases, in which people have been detained, brought to trial and sentenced, and the number of cases where the actual person behind the murder was sentenced is even smaller."

Often Latin American journalists were murdered for reporting on corruption, both in government and private business. Such was the case last year in Costa Rica, with the murder of popular radio broadcaster Parmenio Medina Perez.

For 28 years, Mr. Medina was the producer and host of the weekly radio program, La Patada, or The Kick, in which he often denounced official corruption. He was gunned down in San Jose by unknown assailants last July, after receiving death threats.

His murder was highly unusual for Costa Rica, which has long been a bastion of democracy and civil liberties in the hemisphere. But despite a popular outcry, Ms. Smeets says, little progress has been made in the case.

"Unfortunately, with the killing having taken place almost a year ago, it still has not been clarified who was behind the killing," she said. "So, here, Costa Rica, which is widely regarded as an oasis of democracy, unfortunately, follows suit of so many other countries, and has the killing of a journalist surrounded by impunity. So far, I do know that the investigation is ongoing, and that we are not losing hope that the murder will be clarified, and we definitely will continue to monitor this killing, as we monitor the investigations into other killings."

Colombia, which is a major drug producer and in the midst of a guerrilla war, remains the most dangerous place for journalists in the hemisphere. Leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, drug traffickers, and corrupt government officials have all been implicated in attacks.

Last year, three reporters were killed in Colombia, two of them in apparent reprisal for their work in reporting on the conflict. A third journalist, a radio and television personality in the port city of Buenaventura, appears to have been the victim of a criminal gang.

All these cases are described in detail, year-by-year, in the new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York. Ms. Smeets says the hope is that the study will help bring a few more cases to justice.

"The publication of this list has a number of objectives," she said. "One of them is to provide a body of data, from which significant conclusions can be drawn about trends, and dangers that hopefully will serve to carry out advocacy where it is most needed. Secondly, we intend quite systematically to follow the investigations of killings that have not been solved yet, and we hope the publication of our data will help other organizations and journalists to do the same. We feel that, with all the impunity that surrounds these cases, the resolution of a few cases could have an enormous impact, if only because it would show that not everybody gets away with murder."

The Committee's report is available on the Internet, at CPJ.ORG.