'Killers enjoy 100% immunity'

Guy Delva’s family do not like travelling in the same car as him. They worry that one of the many enemies that Haiti’s high-profile reporter has made in the course of a 20-year career may choose the moment to exact a violent revenge against a man who receives regular death threats.

As attention focuses on the deaths of Paul Douglas and James Brolan, the CBS cameraman and soundman, in Iraq, it is easy to forget that, in some parts of the world, it is the local reporter who runs the greatest risk. In countries such as Haiti, Colombia and the Philippines, journalists face threats and violence on a daily basis from politicians or businessmen whose paths they have crossed.

Delva (40) is the Reuters correspondent in Haiti and has to chart the turbulent times in one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries.
There has rarely been a time of tranquillity there in his lifetime and over the past few years, the threats have come from all parts of the political spectrum.

“Killers of journalists enjoy 100% immunity,’’ said Delva on a visit this month to Britain, where he was a speaker at the International Press Institute conference in Edinburgh and a guest of the Haiti Support Group.

“Jailing and beating journalists is normal.’’ Three journalists were murdered there last year and Delva has been active in trying to bring to justice those who carried out the murders.

Last December, one of his colleagues, Watson Desir, was kidnapped by a gang in Cité Soleil, one of the most dangerous areas in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital. Delva had not only to cover the kidnapping but also to negotiate his friend’s freedom.

Delva had to go to Cité Soleil alone with $4 500 of ransom money. He was turned back at a United Nations checkpoint and told that it was too volatile to enter Cité Soleil at that time. The kidnappers phoned to ask him what was happening, so he made a second attempt to reach them, which ended in a burst of heavy gunfire, and again Delva was unable to get through.

“They rang me again and said, ‘Do you need him?’—in other words they were going to kill him, so I ran the car through the UN [checkpoint].’’ Once in Cité Soleil he was approached by the kidnapper and was allowed to take Desir in exchange for the money, but not before another burst of heavy gunfire.

Such incidents have become part of life for Delva and many of his colleagues. Dozens have left Haiti for jobs in the United States, Canada and France, but Delva intends to stay. He is angry that the investigation into the murder of Jean Dominique of Radio Haiti, who was gunned down six years ago, has still revealed no culprits.

Delva, who started his career in broadcasting, said there is no tradition of investigative journalism in Haiti and that had allowed corrupt politicians and business people to believe they could act with impunity.

Last year, Delva and other journalists formed SOS Journalistes to highlight and campaign for greater protection and freedom for journalists. He himself has turned down offers of protection, not least, he says with a smile, because he might be more at risk from the people who were assigned to look after him. One of the problems is that, even if a politician does not personally threaten the media, his or her supporters may take offence at critical coverage and make their own threats. Some journalists, he said, had even accepted money from politicians just because they needed it to send their children to school.

“But we are not just demanding freedom for journalists, we have to create conditions where everyone is free from fear,” he said.—Â

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