Is a protection mechanism for journalists on the horizon in Paraguay?

In the presence of UNESCO assistant director-general for communication and information, Frank La Rue, representatives from the three branches of government in Paraguay signed on Nov. 28 a Letter of Intent to Establish a Security Mechanism for Journalists in Paraguay.

The signing of this document seeks “to promote initiatives that guarantee, among other aspects, the strengthening of the policies and legislation in force in Paraguay on freedom of expression and security,” according to a press release issued by the Presidency of the Republic of Paraguay.

The implementation of protection mechanisms for journalists, La Rue explained in a conversation with the Knight Center, is a request that is being made by Unesco to all countries of the world within the framework of the agenda for the goals for sustainable development from the UN. He said that a mechanism "is not intended to evaluate the country, [but] is established to create procedures that journalists can use for their safety."

In the specific case of Paraguay, La Rue highlighted the fact that the three branches of government were united in this initiative, making it the first country in the world to do so.

"It seems to me that this was a very important step because Paraguay decided that they did want to [make a mechanism] and they wanted to be the ones who promoted this as an initial step and as a unique example in the world," La Rue said.

The Unesco deputy director however said that they are aware that this is not a "magic wand" or a solution in itself, but offers journalists "a way to be able to have a dialogue with the authorities on plans of protection, security and prevention policy and a mechanism for reporting or seeking emergency assistance."

In addition to La Rue, the document was signed by the National Chancellor, Eladio Loizaga, representing the Executive power; Senator Roberto Acevedo for the Legislature; and vice president of the Supreme Court Raúl Torres Kinser, as representative of the Judiciary. The country’s Attorney General Javier Díaz Verón, signed as an honorary witness.

Likewise, the release said that this signing seeks to implement policies to prevent violence against journalists that include training for communicators, but also for members of the country’s security forces and justice operators. A “rapid protection response procedure” will also be established in case of an “imminent threat against a press workers,” the statement said.

The Paraguayan Presidency said that the three branches of the State “will join forces to promote and protect the security of journalists and fight against impunity for crimes that could be committed against them.”

After the signing, La Rue offered a talk about “Security of Journalists,” Última Hora reported.

“The Government is arriving a little late,” SPP

Although Santiago Ortiz, secretary general of the Association of Paraguayan Journalists (SPP) hopes that with the guidance of Unesco “this letter of intent serves to change the reality” that the country is living in terms of freedom of expression, he said that the entity has “distrust” toward the powers of the State.

For Ortiz, it would have been better if the “letter of intent” had led to specific facts that guarantee the security of journalists. According to what he told the Knight Center, the letter of intent comes a bit late since the organization and some legislators have managed to include a bill in the Chamber of Deputies that seeks to create a mechanism of protection for journalists and human rights defenders.

“We believe that if there really is an intention, the first thing is to approve that bill, the law that creates the mechanism of protection for journalists that involves various institutions of the State,” Ortiz said.

The bill he refers to is currently under debate in committees of the Chamber of Deputies, Ortiz explained. But the path is still long. Afterwards it must be approved by the plenary of the Chamber, be debated in commissions of the Senate and then be approved by the full Senate. The SPP expects that "it at least passes the first parliamentary procedure" before the end of this year.

La Rue emphasized that the signing of this letter of intent does not rule out the bill, and on the contrary complements it, although he emphasized that he has not yet read the bill.

"Now whether the mechanism is used or not depends on civil society, the political will of the three branches of government and the pressure that civil society can make and of the complaints," La Rue said.

In addition, for the secretary general of the SPP, taking into account the commitment expressed by the judiciary, the first thing the judiciary  should make is "a total record of crimes committed against journalists.” According the SPP’s figures, 17 press workers have been murdered since 1991.

According to Ortiz, there is no information related to the progress of the judicial cases on these crimes: "All information is partial or not adequate," he said. He also highlighted as worrying the fact that 35 percent of homicides recorded since 1991 had occurred since 2012.

La Rue pointed out that one of the "fundamental issues" in any mechanism is "the need to investigate cases and reach conclusions", since "the fight against impunity is one of the most important factors in the security of journalists.”

In 2014, Paraguay was included in the list of the deadliest countries for journalists prepared by the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ). Perhaps one of the most significant crime that year was that of Pablo Medina and his assistant Antonia Almada. His colleagues subsequently created the campaign “Justice for Pablo.”

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.