First Steps in the Fight for Journalist Rights in El Salvador

“The idea of creating a Security and Rights of Journalists Roundtable ensued in the midst of an atmosphere of insecurity of this guild, in addition to an environment wherein the relevant institutions were not engaged in the defense of the journalistic guild,” – Dalila Arriaza, President of the Association of Journalists in El Salvador (APES).

On December 11, 2017, the Association of Journalists in El Salvador (APES) together with Internews, the Salvadoran Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (PDDH); the Central American University (UCA), University of El Salvador (UES), Social Initiative for Democracy (ISD), Foundation for Studies for the Application of Law (FESPAD), Association of Independent Journalists of El Salvador (ASPIES) launched the Security and Rights of Journalists Roundtable.

The Roundtable was established to guarantee journalist safety and the observance of fundamental rights in an integrated manner, in addition to advancing legal frameworks and public policies, such as protection mechanisms that guarantee the rights of journalists and social communicators, and encouraging awareness-raising processes aimed towards public officials and society at-large.

Although the strategy and implementation phases encountered obstacles, APES did not cease to campaign with organizations and raise awareness of the need to have an open dialogue about the challenges faced by journalists in the Central American country. “The goal is to work as a team and not in isolation, so that the efforts of the organizations can be seen from the viewpoint of the defense of human rights, and from public institutions whose duty is to protect journalists, universities from the academic standpoint and other organizations that in the future could join the effort,” said Arriaza.

For the APES, Internews support during the development of the roundtable has been key. “Internews has never missed the opportunity to assist us, and this sends us the clear message that this is a significant initiative. The fact that Internews is at every meeting and has helped designed our agenda and set our collective goals is important to both the country and the journalist guild. Without the support from Internews, it would have been complicated to move this project forward.”

“The roundtable is a vital initiative that confirms that strengthening civil society organization, the APES in this case, results in the ability to petition and rally public institutions for the attainment of citizen rights and duties from these institutions. As an international institution, we have seen and cherished the APES’ effort in bringing together important organizations whose values are across the political spectrum, along with the involvement of Salvadoran Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson,” remarks Eileen Menjivar, Technical Director of Internews El Salvador.

A group of journalists interviews a woman (Dalila Arriaza) using video cameras and microphones.
Dalila Arriaza in an interview

This year, APES has set out to start working with the roundtable to strenghten in the face of conditions that could jeopardize a journalist’s safety. “Thanks to the work by Juan Carlos Botero, with the support from Internews, we have a path to follow. For instance, there is an electoral process in which we want to assure that no problems arise in the protection and monitoring, during and after the March 4 elections,” explained Arriaza.

“What do we expect from them? The creation of a well-structured workplan and its execution in the short, medium and long term. This plan should reflect the formulation, consultation and approval of the Law for the Protection of Journalists, the activation of Emergency Committees by public institutions, and other initiatives that derive from the meetings of the roundtable. The most important thing will be to take the initiatives to concrete and real action supportive of the journalists and [human rights] defenders,” described Arriaza.  

“From the APES, we expect their consolidation as a leader in the matter, with structured work methodologies, which will be the most important achievement that Internews activities will have for the strengthening of journalist associations in the Northern Triangle, in this case, in El Salvador,” concludes Menjivar.

Internews supports the Association of Journalists in El Salvador (APES) and its Security and Rights of Journalists Roundtable through Internews’ USAID-funded Regional Human Rights and Democracy activities.

(Banner photo: Dalila Arriaza, President of the Association of Journalists in El Salvador (APES), signing the creation of the Security and Rights of Journalists Roundtable.)