Nigeria is a new addition to the list of the most dangerous countries in which to be a journalist, joining mainstays such as Pakistan, Somalia and Mexico.
Five journalists in Nigeria have been murdered since 2009. None of the cases have been solved.
“Investigations into these killings are usually carried out with sloppiness, and no real culprits are caught," said Ayode Longe, a senior officer with the Media Rights Agenda, a press freedom group in Nigeria. “That has emboldened others to assault journalists, believing nothing would be done to them."
The global index is released each year by the Committee to Protect Journalists and calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population.
The index also found soaring impunity rates in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil.
The CPJ said conditions for journalists are improving in Nepal and Russia, "although both nations remain dangerous for the press."
The analysis founds increasing anti-press violence in Somalia, Pakistan, and Brazil, where national leaders are unwilling or unable to address the issue. In Somalia, 23 journalist murders have gone unsolved over the past decade.
The CPJ report highlights the cased of Wali Khan Babar, a journalist with Geo TV in Pakistan who was murdered in 2011.
While several suspects connected to one of the country’s leading political parties, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, are facing trial, the prosecution has been hindered by the murders of five people connected to the investigation, including witnesses and police officers.
In November 2012, an eyewitness was gunned down two days before he was due to give testimony, the CPJ said.
Iraq is said to be the most dangerous country in which to be a journalist. Over the past 10 years, there have been 93 unsolved killings of journalists in the country of 33 million. Somalia was ranked No. 2, followed by the Philippines, where 55 journalists have been murdered without any convictions in the country of 94 million.
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead
It was probably going to be a wild goose chase, we knew, as we set out at the crack of dawn 10 years ago this morning.
But gas in Baghdad was then barely a penny a litre. And the faint whiff of a whopper beckoned four hours south. Nothing burned, nothing gained.
A cloudless sky was forming as we wheeled away from the Palestine Hotel. Moments later, we were struck by the astonishing sight of one of the kindest souls I've ever met -- American human-rights activist Marla Ruzicka jogging -- jogging! -- all alone on the banks of the Tigris.
But that was Baghdad, circa late April 2003. Saddam was gone, the Green Zone didn't yet exist. The landlines were toast, wiped out by America's Shock And Awe aerial bombardment, but Iraq's first makeshift cellular network was still just an idea. Our biggest worry was finding enough electricity to keep our laptops and satphones running.
It was the fragile calm between violent storms. Iraqis were numb with the enormity of regime change. There was room for reporters to roam, with a reasonable expectation of safety.
It wouldn't last. Exactly two years later, as a festering insurgency intensfied, Ruzicka died in a tragic bomb blast near the Baghdad airport. But on this morning she could jog with impunity, perhaps the first woman ever to do so, wearing short shorts, on Iraqi soil. She flashed us a knowing smile and thumbs up.
Still, Uday, our Sunni Arab driver, was nervous, refusing to speed south at anything less than 150 kms/hour. Ameer, our Shiite translator, and British reporter Inigo Gilmore, my safety-in-numbers travel companion, hung on tight as we made the four-hour journey in two and change.
When we got to the hospital in Nasiriya, Inigo and I split up, fanning out to find the Iraqi doctors and nurses who tended to Pte. Jessica Lynch on our own. Get every account, one by one, individually. Then regroup and compare notes in search of telltale inconsistencies.
We were stunned, by the end of the process, to discover the notes matched perfectly. Three Iraqi doctors, two nurses, one hospital administrator and other locals, one after another, all seamlessly debunking in granular detail the biggest Pentagon myth of the war in Iraq.
The outcome: this original Toronto Star account of the Lynch saga. Inigo did the same for his U.K. outlets.
Four days later, CNN's Aaron Brown placed us in the klieg lights for a live satellite broadcast to set the distorted record straight.
We all get things wrong. Sometimes badly wrong. But the hardest, most sobering lesson I draw from the Lynch debacle is that even when you get it right, myth sometimes myth wins.
Jessica Lynch has done her part, in the ensuing years, to set the record straight. But war requires enemies, armies require heros. And, as she noted this month, if a frightening number of Americans continue to this day to believe the wildly inflated, Hollywood version of Lynch's rescue, "that's on them."
Mitch Potter is the Star's Washington Bureau Chief, his third foreign posting after previous assignments to London and Jerusalem. Potter led the Toronto Star’s coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he won a 2006 National Newspaper Award for his reportage. His dispatches include datelines from 33 countries since 2000. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites
The news hit me with a thunk. “But I was just there!” I thought.
Eilat is a beach town, a vacation town, Israel's answer to Miami or Las Vegas. It has a string of large, posh hotels on the sea and a couple malls. Teenagers in bikinis and oversized sunglasses sashay along the boardwalks, and wealthy Russian tourists flock to boutiques and restaurants where the signs are written in cyrillic script. If it wasn't for the metal detectors at the mall entrances, you wouldn't know you were in a country with security concerns.
My friend Anne has been living in Eilat for the past five years. After she first moved there, I would get in touch whenever I heard about an attack in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Her response was usually the same: It was far away in the north, no big deal. Eilat is more than 300 kilometres south of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, on the other side of a desert. Practically a different world.
So when I finally decided to visit last month and friends asked me the same kind of questions -- Israel? Is it safe there? -- I echoed Anne's reassurances.
That's why this morning's news came as a bit of a shock, even after it became clear that there were no injuries or significant damage. Why would anyone bomb Miami?
But as Haaretz pointed out this morning, there have been signs Eilat could be a target:
“The defence establishment received unspecific intelligence warnings before the rocket fire Wednesday morning at Eilat from Sinai. An army situation assessment at the start of the month led to the decision to put an Iron Dome anti-missile battery in the area – the fifth deployed in Israel.”
Eilat's geography puts it at risk, the article continues: the Sinai peninsula next door is unstable and bringing it under control is a low priority for Egypt's relatively new Muslim Brotherhood government, and the government suspects Islamist groups are taking root there.
Aside from the security threat, it could be bad economic news for Eilat, a small town built around tourism. Anne works for a Finnish travel company and on busy weeks in the winter high season, about 350 tourists from Finland come to town, she told me over lunch last month. For them it's a relatively inexpensive, convenient holiday escape – kind of like Florida or Cuba for Canadians.
But numbers have been dropping the past couple years. It's partly because of the struggling European economy, she said. But also, after December's Gaza conflict and the Arab Spring, “people are afraid.”
I haven't heard back from her yet today (she's more likely to be hanging out on a beach than sitting at a computer), but I have a feeling that if anything drives her away from her laid-back adopted hometown, it will be economics, not fear.
Stephanie MacLellan is an editor on the Star's foreign desk. She just returned from her first trip to Israel. Follow her on Twitter: @smaclellan
Who killed Salam Fayyad?
For Fayyad, read “Fayyadism.” The departing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister is very much alive. But the economic and political development concept he created, with the backing and urging of the West, is now an ex-policy, as deceased as the Monty Python parrot.
Fayyad, economic mastermind and PM of the authority that controls the West Bank, quit in disgust on Saturday, to an echo-chamber of Western laments, including that of Foreign Minister John Baird, who was “saddened and deeply disappointed” to learn of his departure.
And he added, “Mr. Fayyad was a trusted and dedicated interlocutor and friend of Canada.”
The former IMF economist resigned after a long-running power struggle with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
But even as Baird met with Fayyad during his recent Mideast trip, Ottawa was pondering a cut-off of aid to the Palestinian Authority -- a shift that began during Fayyad’s term and was sparked by Abbas’s decision to upgrade Palestine’s UN status to non-member observer state.
Canada isn’t unique in its lacklustre support for Fayyad, who has been vociferously praised by Western leaders as a man they can do business with. Non-confrontational and pragmatic, he was charged with tackling the endemic corruption of the PA, and preparing the Palestinian Territories for the kind of peaceful and (relatively) prosperous state Israelis could live alongside without fear.
Some Western pundits have blamed Fayyad’s departure on Abbas’s refusal to clean house, and on the PA leader's move toward statehood without prior negotiation with Israel.
But New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, who talked with Fayyad in February, described it differently.
“The most progressive and innovative Palestinian thinker on a Middle East peace settlement has been steadily isolated over the past several years,” Cohen wrote. “Undercut by Israel, undermined by his own people’s factionalism, unable to meet even once with President Obama, this dynamic Palestinian leader is now close to the end of his rope.” Obama did meet with Fayyad last month, but too late to prevent his resignation.
Thanks to Fayyad, Cohen points out, Israel enjoyed one of its calmest periods. In spite of the expansion of settlements, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian in 2012.
Nevertheless, since the UN upgrade, when Washington cut off funding and Palestinian tax and tariff money was withheld by Israel, Fayyad’s administration was broke. Striking public workers went to the streets, and widespread discontent is roiling. The two countries promised to unblock the funds last month, but not in time to restore public confidence in Fayyad.
Score one for Fayyad’s domestic enemies -- including Hamas, which blames him for making Palestine safe for occupation. But where were his friends in need?
Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights in the former Soviet Union, South Asia and the Middle East. She has collaborated on several documentary films, including Hamas: Behind the Mask.
A cautious welcome from aid agencies working in war zones following the announcement by Foreign Minister John Baird that Canada will give $5 million this year to prevent sexual violence in conflict and help victims. The news came at Thursday's G8 foreign ministers meeting in London where member states committed a total of $36 million to the crisis.
Save the Children's Cicely McWilliam called it an "important first step" and said protecting children should be at the forefront of G8's humanitarian response to war. Up to 80 per cent of sexual violence victims in conflict are children, a recent report by the agency stated.
World Vision's Jonathan Papoulidis said he was "encouraged" by Baird's announcement but wanted more details about how the money would be spent. Canada should fund initiatives that establish a minimum set of protection standards for children during war, he added.
"These minimum standards do things like ensure there are enough sexual violence protection workers and programs in conflict zones to protect and help children,” he said.
War Child also welcomed the funding news. But the charity warned in a report earlier this week that there was a risk sexual violence was being narrowly defined as a women's and legal issue. Rape affected men, women, girls and boys - and it was endemic in conflict, it said.
"Once the veil of ignorance is lifted, through simple enquiry, the extent and brutality of sexual violence in conflict areas is so shocking that it requires us to ask fundamental questions about our understanding of humanitarian needs, and the purpose of our presence in conflict zones," Rob Williams, the charity's chief executive, said in the report.
Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour
Ten years ago this week a group of Iraqis –- with a crane handily supplied by the U.S. marines –- lassoed a statue of Saddam Hussein in the middle of a Baghdad square and toppled it to the ground: cheers followed in Washington -- and years of tears in Iraq.
The tragi-comic back story of the battle with Saddam’s statue was told in the New Yorker by journalist Peter Maass, who watched as Iraqis chipped away with a sledgehammer at the statue’s base, a symbolic act that mirrored the Bush administration’s bungled attempt at a quick, clean break from the dictator’s brutal regime.
A series of fumbles with American and Iraqi flags ensued, until the marine cavalry saved the day. It supplied the “iconic moment” of victory the TV cameras were hungry for, in spite of protests from some journos who were eager to tell the inconvenient truth, that the war was only beginning. Those who dissented were rewritten out of “history.”
“Very few Iraqis were there,” Maass wrote. “You can also see, from photographs as well as video, that much of the crowd was made up of journalists and marines.” Nevertheless, the event neatly substituted for reality. And it was a great leap forward for the statue-toppling events that have now become de rigeur when dictators tumble.
In 2011, a sculptured golden fist that symbolized Moammar Gadhafi crushing a U.S. fighter plane was smashed by rebels, along with a life-size statue of the Libyan strongman. But fewer hacks were there to snap the moment. Statues of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were smashed with even less fanfare when the Tahrir Square protesters won the day.
Last month an amateur video showed opposition groups celebrating the destruction of a statue of Bashar Assad’s equally ruthless father, Hafez, in a newly-taken town.
But the statue-smashing tradition goes back much farther, to the ancient world, when newer conquerors would raze and smash the symbols of older ones.
But they lacked the technology and propaganda machines of later eras. In the 19th century, German-born artist Johannes Oertel painted a heroic picture of American patriots pulling down a statue of British king George III in Manhattan in 1776 – but eyewitness accounts contradicted his portrait of cheering native people, elegantly dressed women and children looking on. Rather, they said, it was a rag-tag mob.
Fast forward to the Soviet Union in 1991, when Moscow had its own stage-managed “iconic moment” to show the world that communism had collapsed.
Nikolai Amelin, a 28-year-old street sweeper with a buff body and blond, chiseled features, was plucked from the crowd by a PR-smart aide of President Boris Yeltsin and asked to put a rope around the the massive statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky – the prime enforcer of Joseph Stalin’s terror. The crane Amelin was riding ripped the statue from its base. Overnight, he became the surprised, but triumphant, face of the New Russia.
“It was a decisive moment and it felt like a fantasy,” he told me a decade later, from his sleek central Moscow flat. Now a much-in-demand model, he commanded a wage that few Muscovites could dream of. But at the dawn of the plutocratic Putin era, his old revolutionary spirit was still simmering. He joined a protest movement against developers who were forcing the poorest market vendors from their patches of pavement.
“There are two parallel lives in Russia,” he said bitterly. “The life of the state and the life of the people. They have no meeting point.”
The 15 tonne statue that once loomed over the KGB’s sinister Lubyanka Square is resting in Moscow’s retirement home for old Soviet artifacts, outside the Central House of Artists. Last year the Moscow authorities announced it would be restored to its old glory – and awarded the title of an “object of cultural heritage.”
Olivia Ward covered the former Soviet Union from 1992-2002. She has reported on conflicts, politics and human rights there and in the Middle East and South Asia, winning national and international awards.
Photos of killed people donated by survivors are displayed on a wall inside the Gisozi memorial in Kigali, depicting the horros of Rwanda's genocide. (Radu Sigheti/Reuters)
In the years leading up to World War II, long before the construction of gas chambers, Nazi party leaders hardly kept their feelings about Jews a secret.
Six years before the outbreak of war, on Apr. 1, 1933, the Nazis organized a countrywide anti-Jewish boycott, using radio and newspapers, the main media outlets of the day, to spread their message.
Decades later, before any Tutsis had been killed with machetes, Hutu leaders in Rwanda in 1993 and 1994 used a local radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, to spew venom attacks about Tutsis, comparing them to cockroaches.
Both examples are a reminder, Chris Tuckwood says, that genocides typically follow a host of early warning signals.
Tuckwood, 28, is one of the co-founders of a new Toronto-based non-profit called The Sentinel Project, which organizers say is dedicated to hate-speech detection and alerts.
Its 60 volunteers have begun monitoring hate speech in Kenya, Myanmar, Colombia, Azerbaijan, Indonesia and Iran.
“We’re watching Iran pretty closely,” Tuckwood said. “What we’re seeing with the Bahai religious minority is concerning. The discrimination they face is quite advanced. They’re excluded from public life, can’t get public-sector jobs, aren’t allowed education after high school, and their homes are frequent victims of vandalism.”
Some Iranians, who are followers of Shiite Islam believe Bahaism is tantamount to blasphemy because it promotes the belief in a 19th century prophet.
In Hungary and other parts of Europe, Roma claim to be victims of persecution, and hate speech is even visible in the U.S. So why isn't the upstart NGO monitoring those countries?
"It's a good point," Tuckwood said. "We would do more right away if we had the resources."
Among the tools offered by Sentinel is an Internet application called Hatebase, which combs social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook, and local language news sites and blogs in a search of words that may signal brewing ethnic conflict.
The interface, developer Timothy Quinn, allows users to refine hate speech terms by region and use mapping to document when and how hate speech is used.
For instance, the database includes a number of derogatory names and their definitions. Users can click “I have been called this” or “I have overheard someone else called this” and document where on a Google world map the slur occurred.
It’s a similar method to one being used by health researchers who map the outbreak of communicable diseases.
“People use Twitter to cite and follow Hollywood stars, so why not use the same tool to identify threats like this?” said Jack Chow, the U.S. ambassador on global HIV/AIDS from 2001-3 who is on Sentinel’s advisory board.
Tuckwood, a former Canadian soldier who has his masters degree in disaster management, said he's hoping Jewish and Armenian communities, both of which are sensitive to hate-speech issues, will offer funding to allow them to hire fulltime staff.
It’s not easy to set up a new NGO, Tuckwood concedes. But he says his group’s independence offers them a free voice.
“If you look at the UN adviser focused on genocide, there’s so much baggage that comes along with making a statement about the risk of genocide in a particular country,” Tuckwood said. “When they do say something, it’s always in the typical, bland, diplomatic language. But we can say what we see and don’t have to worry about conversations happening only behind closed doors.”
Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead
The CBC documentary Under Fire: Journalists in Combat has won a renowned Peabody Award. Made by Toronto filmmaker Martyn Burke, the documentary looks at how reporting from war zones has become increasingly dangerous. My colleague Paul Watson was interviewed in the film about the trauma he suffered after the Somalia conflict in 1993.
He was recently in Aleppo, Syria and told me about the other challenges faced by reporters covering Syria -- the onslaught of YouTube clips.
"I'm elated that the film is getting the attention, and praise, that it so richly deserves," Watson said.
I was lamenting how Syria, despite the great courage of the journalists who have been covering the conflict continuously for two years now, wasn't getting enough traction in the North American public to force action a break stalemate that is killing hundreds of people a day.
I thought more Western journalists should be in Syria, making sure the terrifying human cost, and the risk that moderates will lose out if the conflict drags on much longer, is front and centre in the public's mind.
"No one wants to get kidnapped or killed," a young German filmmaker, a veteran of 13 trips to Syria over the past two years, told me.
"It's not the first war where journalists have been killed or kidnapped," I said, having reported from several where the casualty toll among colleagues was high.
"Yah, but this one is all over YouTube," someone else at the table said.
And it struck me: the digital revolution, which has created so much hope that oppressed people can unite against tyrants over their cell phones, is also giving professional journalists an excuse to leave the most dangerous work to civilian journalists. The result is a lot of diffuse coverage that Western politicians obviously find it easy to ignore.
That scares me more than war itself."
Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour
According to TZ Online, the latest victim is reportedly a 73-year-old man from the United Arab Emirates who fell sick in Abu Dhabi and was flown by private jet to Munich for treatment. Fifty people who came in contact with this patient are now being monitored for any symptoms of the disease.
German newspaper Bild reports that the victim was from a "ruling family" in Dubai and caught the infection at a camel race. There is strong evidence to suggest the virus comes from bats, which may be infecting another animal that more frequently comes into contact with humans.
This is Germany's second imported case of the novel coronavirus -- the first was a patient who fell sick in Qatar and recovered in November after being treated at a specialty clinic in Germany.
This latest fatality comes on the heels of another death from the novel coronavirus, this one in the United Kingdom. The Birmingham Mail reported on Saturday that Abid Hussain -- a 60-something father of two who recently visited Saudi Arabia with his daughter -- succumbed to the virus on March 19. He fell sick in late January shortly after returning from his trip, according to the newspaper.
Hussain's wife and daughter were not by his side when he died because they were in Pakistan burying Hussain's son, Khalid, who was also infected with the novel coronavirus and died February 17. According to the Birmingham Mail, Khalid, a father of two, was undergoing chemotherapy when his father returned from Saudi Arabia and, in all likelihood, infected him with the virus.
A third person, reportedly a 30-year-old woman who visited Hussain in the hospital, was also mildly infected but has now recovered.
Update: here is a Google-translated German-language press release from the Munich hospital announcing the latest death.
Update 2: the World Health Organization has now posted an official statement on the latest coronavirus developments.
The Star's foreign desk covers the best stories from the around the globe, updated throughout the day.