Sunday, 5 February 2012


With 106 journalists killed in the line of duty, 2011 has been an average murderous year. It proved again that, once the inflated figures of the war years cease to distort the grim toll of killed journalists, the tally confirms what we have been saying all along that the majority of journalists killed are not the by-lined war correspondents who knowingly risk their lives, but the local beat reporters whose names do not resonate at all in the media.

This is why, as journalists continue to die, we have been arguing all along that the next step is not to engage in a long tortuous battle to promote yet another international instrument. We have always believed that there were now enough international laws, covenants, protocols, declarations and resolutions to paper all the walls of Ban Ki-Moon office. What we need is a strong UN determined to implement these resolutions and compel governments to abide by international laws and standards, including the Universal Humanitarian Laws which are a set of universal standards for all people and all nations.

Last week, Hassan Osman Abdi, a senior Somali journalist and head of Shabelle Media Network, was gunned down as he was stepping into his home. Another cold-calculated murder that took place under the nose of the soldiers of the Somali Federal Transitional Government, proof that his killers would never be found and those who ordered the execution will remain sheltered. Barely 24 hours later, many powerful voices including those of UN Special Representative to Somalia Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, European diplomats, representatives of the Somali government echoed each other in condemning this heinous crime and backing a swift enquiry.

It would be all too easy to draw the simple conclusion that finally the powers that be have woken up from their slumber and are now showing the political mettle they have been lacking. The reality in this case is that other geopolitical factors seems to be at play. Why did the murder of Abdi suddenly become an issue when the last murder in Mogadishu of his colleagues Abdisalan Sheik Hassan only a month ago was barely noticed? Should it have anything to do with the “international community” evaluating the achievements of the current Federal Transitional Government? In a recent report, the International Crisis Group describes the current FTG as "having squandered the good will and support it received and achieved little of significance”. It also said that many local and foreign observers regard the current government as the most corrupt since the cycles of ineffectual transitions began in 2000. No wonder that the FTG moved quickly in an effort to impress its backer.

It is in this context that the recent initiative launched at the Doha conference should be seen. It may well have been ensconced in geopolitical considerations, but we were fully engaged with some of our regional groups as core participants. The main debate was dominated by the polemics around whether to have an emblem to identify journalists and to promote another convention to protect journalists, but the main gist of the conference was to call for renewed and urgent action to monitor and implement the existing mechanisms. The final declaration was not radical and reiterated many of the demands already addressed in the past to the UN and its agencies, governments, employers and journalists. What mattered most was the renewed attempt to re-ignite the arguments of why, when and how the current mechanisms must be enforced? We welcomed the declaration and we will be among the group representing journalists, led by the Qatar National Human Rights Council, that will deliver the recommendations to the UN General Assembly and participate in the follow up.

The UNESCO inter-agencies conference last September, the conference of experts organised last November by the Austrian government and the recent Doha initiative all signal the start of a powerful dynamic determined to put governments under pressure to protect journalists and put an end to impunity.

Opening session of the Doha conference

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