Impunity Project Review Shows Headway in Justice For Slain Latin American Journalists

Still Problem Worsens in Mexico

Note: Slide Show on Violence Against Latin America’s Journalists at www.kflinks.com/iapaReport may be reprinted or republished at no cost via the Creative Commons license. (Download the files here)

MIAMI, Fla. - Fifteen years ago, killers of Latin American journalists almost always went scot free – but that was before the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) began campaigning for justice.

Now, 126 killers and accomplices have been put behind bars. The IAPA's Project Against Impunity can count that as a measure of success, according to a new report commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

At the same time, the independent review also found that many challenges remain. Although the “Impunity rate” in Latin America is improving, a majority of killers of journalists in the 258 documented murders since 1995 still have escaped punishment. And those behind bars are from just 59 cases.

While murders of journalists have decreased in many Latin American countries, journalists in the middle of the bloody drug turf wars in Northern Mexico are in more danger than ever. There, justice is more “an ideal than a reality,” and the report found the IAPA has encountered significant obstacles.

Says the report: “The IAPA can lessen impunity only where its chief tools — investigating killings, issuing resolutions and meeting with political leaders face to face — inspire a government to act. When lawlessness reigns, as it did in Colombia during the 1980s and 1990s and in Mexico today, the IAPA faces nearly insurmountable odds in trying to ensure justice for murdered journalists.”

The report, “Stories Go Untold as Latin American Journalists Die,” is part of the Knight Foundation’s Reporters Analysis series, where investigative journalists help evaluate the foundation’s impact. The foundation has invested $7.6 million in the IAPA’s Project Against Impunity since its creation in 1995.

Among the report’s other findings:

  • Governments now face consistent pressure from the IAPA to provide justice. Several countries have toughened laws.
  • Killings of journalists are down in two of the hardest hit countries. In Colombia, the murders have dropped sharply, as have killings of Colombians in general, thanks to the get-tough policies of President álvaro Uribe, who just left office. In Brazil, journalist slayings have plummeted, and hired guns almost always go to prison now.
  • In Mexico, however, the government’s inability to arrest and try the killers is part of an impunity problem across the board for all drug war-inspired crimes, a crisis that has overwhelmed the IAPA’s efforts to bring justice there.
  • Newspaper editors view the Impunity Project as necessary. Because of the IAPA’s overarching presence and clout as Latin America’s primary press association, closing the Impunity Project would leave a void tough to fill.
  • At the same time, reporters on the front lines say the project does little to make them feel safer. An IAPA advertising campaign meant to stir public outrage is losing its effectiveness. And the general public still doesn’t equate a journalist’s killing as a danger to democracy.

In a response to the independent review, the IAPA says the report should have concentrated more on the details of its  advocacy work and judicial reform efforts, the sending of 73 international delegations to meet with the region’s presidents and top officials, for example, and its successful effort to involve the Inter-American Human Rights Court and Commission in pressuring governments to investigate and prosecute cases.

The report, including an embeddable, narrated slide show, is available at www.kflinks.com/sip and in English at www.kflinks.com/iapa. The report can be republished and reprinted at no cost through the Creative Commons license.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote informed and engaged communities and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Contact: Marc Fest, Vice President of Communications, Knight Foundation,

305-908-2677; fest@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.