Prime Minister Tony Blair
10 Downing Street
December 19th 2005
Dear Prime Minister,
Concern over Safety of Media Staff and Deaths of Journalists in Iraq
On behalf of the National Union of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ group, I am writing to draw your attention to the continuing and increasing plight of those journalists and media staff throughout the world who are the victims of violence for carrying out their professional duties. We are particularly concerned over the perilous situation facing journalists and media staff working in Iraq.
The IFJ and the NUJ, along with many other press freedom groups and professional organisations, are campaigning vigorously for action by governments to investigate fully all acts of violence against journalists and to bring to justice those guilty of carrying out criminal attacks on media.
Recently, the IFJ presented to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan a draft resolution against impunity in the killing of journalists in conflict zones.
This proposal highlights the particular role of media in conflict resolution and focuses on the extreme dangers facing our colleagues; dangers that we feel must be confronted by the international community.
The incidence of violence against media staff in Iraq dramatically reveals the scale of the problem. Since the outbreak of war in March 2003 we have registered at least 101 journalists and media staff who have died in Iraq alone. The toll is appalling, bringing great personal tragedy to the families and friends of the victims as well as exposing the frail nature of the democratic process in that country.
Many of these deaths were unavoidable, but, shockingly, many of them could and should have been prevented. We have noted that 18 of these deaths have been at the hands of US soldiers. In these cases there have been no credible or independent investigations to the satisfaction of friends, family and colleagues as to how and why these deaths occurred. In some cases unanswered questions remain more than two years after the killings.
This state of affairs is plainly unacceptable. It is made worse by what appears to be the unfeeling and arrogant response of military officials, mainly representing the United States who refuse to disclose information or ignore the pleas of relatives for proper investigation of these incidents. Often media organisations and journalists’ families face a wall of silence and an unfeeling bureaucracy that refuses to give clear and credible answers.
That is why I am asking you, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and a key ally of the United States as well as in your role of President of the European Council, to declare your support for an end to all impunity in the killings of journalists and, particularly, for the opening of new and independent inquiries into the killings of these media staff, details of which are enclosed, at the hands or US and coalition forces.
At a time of great public anxiety and fearfulness over security, as well as growing concern about the progress of the conflict in Iraq, we believe that the European Union must take responsibility to ensure that international law is enforced and that rights of victims in this conflict are properly protected.
It is time, we believe, for the EU itself to demand that there is justice and respect for basic humanitarian rights on the part of all democratic countries involved in this conflict.
Full, independent and inclusive inquiries into these cases will restore confidence among media and journalists that governments are ready to honour their international obligations to defend press freedom and secure justice for the innocent victims of conflict.
We acknowledge, of course, that, in the context of a war driven by undemocratic and terrorist groups, many of the killings are by people who have no sense of decency, no respect for basic human rights and no willingness to embrace civilized values - there is, regrettably, little hope for useful dialogue with such political elements.
But when the forces of settled democracies are involved, we expect them to apply the very minimum of accountability to be expected of a state committed to justice, human rights and democratic accountability.
We cannot ignore the fact that in the Iraq cases this benchmark of minimum standards is not being reached. So long as it remains the case that governments refuse to investigate these cases and take responsibility for their actions, it is inevitable that there will continue to be speculation about the deliberate targeting of journalists and media staff.
We need to clear the air. In a period of transition to Iraqi authority it is necessary to set the highest standards possible for the investigation and reporting of all incidents in which journalists and media staff are killed. The international community needs to set and apply standards that are a model of justice and democracy.
The IFJ is currently working closely with journalists’ groups in Iraq and is in dialogue with groups such as the Iraqi National Communications and Media Commission to try to ensure that the rights of journalists throughout the country are properly protected.
We note that the international community has already responded effectively and decisively, through UN Security Council Resolution 1502, on the question of protection of humanitarian staff, including UN personnel. We hope very much that similar concerns will be expressed in favour of journalists and media staff.
All losses are terrible to bear, but the numbers of journalists, and local media people in particular, who are now at risk has reached unacceptably high levels.
As you know there has been much controversy recently over recent reports in the Daily Mirror that a secret memo from your office revealed how you talked US President George Bush out of a proposal to carry out a military strike on the headquarters of AI-Jazeera in Qatar.
This report adds to concerns about deliberate targeting of journalists. There are many unanswered questions about the attack on the Baghdad offices of Al-Jazeera on April 8th 2003, in which journalist Tareq Ayyoub was killed. If this was, as is now increasingly feared, a deliberate military strike it would constitute a gross violation of international and European humanitarian law.
We ask you to take up this case, and that of 17 other colleagues. We ask you to raise them with the President of the United States, both in your role as Prime Minister and as President of the Council of the European Union.
We do not seek to unfairly accuse or punish anyone; what we seek is justice for the victims. We need to clear the air and that process will begin only when the United States authorities and others involved in this conflict are ready to tell the truth about these attacks and to take their proper responsibilities.
With kind regards,
NUJ General Secretary
IFJ General Secretary
The Delivery Team with the Letter, Outside of No.10 Downing Street:
From L to R: Helen Oswald (NUJ), John McDonnell MP, Jeremy Dear NUJ GS, Tim Lezard,NUJ President and Jim Boumelha IFJ Treasurer