In a meeting this week in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan region, Iraqi journalists' unions gave their backing to a new campaign in defence of journalists' rights despite the heavy toll of war over the past five years that has claimed more than 280 media lives.

The conference, called by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its two affiliated organisations in Iraq, the Kurdistan Journalists' Syndicate (KJS) and the Iraqi Union of Journalists (IUJ), brought together 50 journalists and union leaders from across the country.

Despite some progress this year in the country's security situation, the threat of sectarian conflict and attacks against media remains. The latest media killing took place a few weeks ago, when Soran Mama Hama, a reporter for the Kurdish-language magazine Leven, was shot dead in the northern city of Kirkuk.

"It is vital that media, journalists' groups and the authorities continue working together in implementing an efficient safety strategy, and promoting solidarity and reconciliation in the country", said a statement from the meeting which launched a campaign demanding the end of impunity in media killings.

The meeting called on the Iraqi Parliament and the Parliament of Kurdistan region to pass the Journalists' Protection Law in Iraq and the Kurdistan Media Law.

The meeting reiterated unanswered demands made to the authorities to publish the results of the investigation into the killing of union leader Shihab Tamimi in February.

"Only by taking concrete steps to bring the murderers to justice, will the authorities show their commitment to end impunity and the tragedy that has overtaken much of journalism in the country," said a statement from the meeting.

The IFJ, IUJ and KJS used the meeting to further develop the national programme of work for the Iraqi Media Safety Group (IMSG), an initiative established last year with the support of the International News Safety Institute (INSI). The meeting agreed to open a safety centre in Erbil in the few coming weeks.

The seminar also ran a series of discussions on women journalists' empowerment, which revealed real need to improve the situation in both unions, whose leaderships committed to put gender equality in the heart of their working programmes.

Women's Affairs Minister in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Mrs. Jenan Kassim, who joined the meeting fully supported women journalists' demands. She stressed that the time had come for them to step forward. The meeting built on conclusions from a regional meeting earlier this year in Tunis that launched the "Women Partners in Trade Union Leadership" campaign. A national action plan was outlined encouraging Iraqi women journalists to engage in trade union activities and to put themselves forward for leadership posts.

Ethics, trade-union work and solidarity were also on the agenda. A new trade union development training programme was agreed and there was agreement to hold a conference on media ethics in Baghdad. These issues remain key areas of work in a country, where professionalism, ethics and independence from political pressure are greatly needed.

Erbil, 15 August 2008.

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The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide