Friday, December 8, 2017
A criminal investigation into the murder of four television journalists from broadcasting organisation IKON in El Salvador may be opened early next year. Koos Koster, Hans ter Laag, Jan Kuiper and Joop Willemsen were murdered by the Salvadoran army on the 17th of March 1982, on their way to territory controlled by the guerrilla movement FMLN. In 1993, a United Nations Truth Commission confirmed that the Salvadoran army had intentionally shot the four Dutch journalists. But whether they were acting under the instruction of their government remained unclear at the time.  

Amnesty law

In 2016 El Salvador repealed its amnesty law, which has prevented the prosecution of crimes that took place during the country's civil war (1980-1992). In August of this year, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, 'Fundación Comunicándonos' and 'Associacíon de Derechos Humanos', now urge the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution. The Dutch embassy and Free Press Unlimited support this effort.

End to impunity

Director Leon Willems of Free Press Unlimited: "We are pleased with the initiative of the organizations we support in El Salvador. The murder of the four journalists has inflicted deep wounds in both El Salvador and the Netherlands. Due to the lack of prosecution and trial of the perpetrators, it seemed carte blanche was given to intimidation, violence and the murder of journalists throughout the region. This attack on independent and reliable information continues to this day. Persecution and trial of the perpetrators and patrons in El Salvador can be a sign of hope for an end to impunity in the killing of journalists throughout the region."

Bishop Romero

In Latin America, hundreds of journalists have been murdered since the death of the four IKON reporters. In less than 10 percent of cases, perpetrators are prosecuted and tried. According to Oscar Lopez from Fundación Comunicándonos, there is a fair chance that a number of notorious cases, including those of Archbishop Romero and the IKON journalists, will lead to prosecution; "We hope that in January 2018 the case of the IKON journalists will be formally applied to the court in El Salvador. We will follow the case closely and continue to ask for attention through events and media reports because it is extremely important to improve the situation in which journalists do their work today."

Safety for journalists in the region

These two Salvadoran human rights organizations, together with Free Press Unlimited, are organizing a seminar in El Salvador on the safety of journalists across the region, with speakers from Colombia, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, as well as more than 100 judges, journalists and diplomats.