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Peoples’ Tribunal Judgment on the Murder of Journalists

On 19 September, in Nieuwe Kerk in The Hague, the panel of judges of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) delivered its judgment following a process of public hearings inaugurated in November 2021 at the request of Safer World for Truth Coalition – composed by Free Press Unlimited, Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, and supported by the Syrian Centre for Press and Freedom of Expression and the Centre for Justice and Accountability – and articulated in three different thematic hearings each dedicated one of the exemplary cases for the murder of journalists: from Mexico, Miguel Angel López Velasco, from Sri Lanka, Lasantha Wickrematunge, and from Syria, Nabil Walid Al-Sharbaji.

Based on the extensive and rigorous documentation and the witness statements publicly submitted, the PPT panel of judges unanimously pronounced a condemnatory judgment against the States of Mexico, Sri Lanka, and Syria for being guilty, through their actions and omissions (lack of due investigation, lack of reparation measures for the victims, complete impunity), of all the human rights violations denounced in the indictment. The seriousness of the responsibility is further underlined as the three states are signatories to the multilateral treaty obliging them to respect the fundamental civil and political rights of all citizens, which include the right to life, freedom of religion, speech, assembly, electoral rights, and the right to due process.

Throughout the four hearings of the Session, the victims’ relatives, as well as the numerous experts who spoke, fully highlighted the growing trend, in the most diverse contexts, of the many forms of violence against those who work in the field of information, with important consequences on the ability of society as a whole not only to render justice to the victims but also to guarantee accountable levels of democracy.

The alarming worsening of the situation at the international level has been also stressed and analyzed by the PPT with detailed documentation on the extension of the murders and attacks on media workers, which have further occurred in full impunity despite the proliferation of recommendations produced by the United Nations and other international and regional agencies. A clear lack of political will is the only possible explanation of the evidence of a powerless strategy in the implementation of otherwise very clear binding obligations targeted to prevent and prosecute these crimes, in an area so critically linked to the sustainability of a civil society. In this context, the recommendations put forward by the PPT in the last section of its judgment strongly advocate an urgent and long-term bottom-up involvement of all social actors and communities.

It is in this direction that two initiatives – markedly diverse, but even more significantly complementary – that accompanied the Closing Session must be read. Far away from The Hague, in Veracruz, Mexico, a State most affected by this real massacre of ‘information workers’, the judgment was read out at an event where Miguel Angel López Velasco’s family members were joined by one of the PPT judges, Marcela Turati, and a crowd dispersed only by an earthquake outbreak. In the evocative Nieuwe Kerk, meanwhile, the words of the witness gave way to a ‘liturgy of silence’: each of those present carried, in a timeless procession, a picture of a murdered journalist, to create a monument of faces demanding the results of the PPT not to be the end of a duty of memory, but rather the beginning of another journey.

(c) 2022, Permanent Peoples Tribunal.

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