Reporters Without Borders has written to the more than 50 national and international delegations attending tomorrow’s one-day London Conference on Somalia to draw their attention to the alarming situation of journalists in Somalia.
Open letter to delegations participating in the London Conference on Somalia on 23 February 2012
Paris, 21 February 2012
Subject: Call for an independent international commission of enquiry into the murders of journalists and for the creation of mechanisms to prevent violence against journalists
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would firstly like to hail the initiative to hold this conference and its goals. We welcome the fact that the international community is trying to respond to a crisis that has dragged on for many years and is assuming its responsibilities as regards Somalia, where the transitional federal government’s mandate expires in August 2012.
Our organization has for years been following the dangers to which journalists are exposed in Somalia and has seen the failure to establish a viable form of freedom of information.
Reporters Without Borders would like to take this opportunity to draw your attention to two factors that are essential for improving the situation: the need to combat the complete impunity that exists in Somalia for physical attacks and murders of journalists, and the need to establish the required mechanisms and institutions to protect their physical integrity, personal security and fundamental rights.
Somalia has for years been the deadliest country in Africa for journalists. According to the monitoring of Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), four journalists were killed in 2011, three were killed in 2010 and nine were killed in 2009.
This year has also begun badly with Hassan Osman Abdi, the head of the Shabelle Media Network, being murdered outside his home by five unidentified gunmen on 28 January. He was the third head of the Shabelle Media Network to be killed because of the position he held, following Bashir Nur Gedi in 2007 and Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe in 2009.
A journalist’s murder is not just one more act of violence linked to the regional context, one more random by-product of the conflict. It is a targeted action of a very political nature whose perpetrators must be brought to justice, or else the entire population risks being deprived of news and information. However, no investigation into any of the murders of journalists in recent years has resulted in those responsible being arrested and charged, highlighting the judicial system’s inability to render justice to victims and their families.
If identifying those responsible for all these murders is very difficult, only an independent international commission of enquiry would be capable of carrying out the necessary investigations in the current political context. Such a commission, the creation of which is supported by many political figures and NGOs, would enjoy all the independence necessary for shedding light on the violence against the media. This is why we are asking you to examine the issue of violence against journalists and to consider the possibility of creating such a commission.
At a time when the discussions about a successor to the transitional federal government are taking a new direction, we also urge you to look at the possibility – once a new political system has been created – of establishing institutions capable of assuring the best possible security and protection for journalists working in Somalia.
According to our monitoring, 27 journalists have been arrested since the start the year (two of whom are still detained in Hargeisa), nine journalists have been threatened and one news media has been censored. Journalists are constantly exposed to misuse of criminal and anti-terrorism laws. In its annual report in 2011, NUSOJ reported that seven journalists were injured, 19 were arrested arbitrarily, seven media were attacked and libel actions were brought against at least five newspapers.
We are aware that this conference already has a very full political agenda but we must point out that it has raised the hopes of Somalia’s population and its journalists. Each of the participants at this conference has a duty to come up concrete solutions for those who are the victims of the daily violence.
We are at your disposal if you would like more details about the situation of any of the journalists and news media that have experienced problems in Somalia.
Finally, we hope that you will be sympathetic to our requests.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general