Over the past decade, more than 700 journalists and media workers have been killed for their work. Many more have been harassed, threatened, tortured and jailed. In nine out of ten cases, abuses are uninvestigated and perpetrators go free.
This widespread lack of accountability for crimes committed against the press has led to a culture of impunity so pervasive – and in some countries so deeply entrenched – it has been identified as one of the single greatest global threats to the fundamental right of freedom of expression and democratic principles worldwide.
In 2013, in an effort to recognize and counter this threat, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming today, November 2, as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI).
Each year since then, UNESCO has documented the murder of journalists and asked member states to report on what they are doing to bring perpetrators to justice. Despite this, year after year, governments have failed to take action to protect journalists and investigate abuses against them.
A number of independent local and international civil society groups have long been trying to end impunity for these crimes. As a result of their efforts, there has been increased international attention to the issue in recent years.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has been working doggedly on the issue of impunity since 2008, when it began producing an annual Global Impunity Index spotlighting countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free. According to its 2016 index, which calculates the number of unsolved murders as a percentage of each country’s population over a ten-year-period, Somalia, followed by Iraq and Syria, topped the list for the second year in a row. In all three countries, the majority of killings have been attributed to militant extremists.
But while terrorist organizations have been responsible for the greatest number of recent attacks against journalists, CPJ’s findings show they are not the only ones getting away with murder. Nor are these crimes exclusive to conflict zones.
In the past decade, journalists living in relatively democratic, stable states have faced grave threats to their lives. In the Philippines, families of the thirty-two journalists and media workers slaughtered in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre are yet to see justice served for their loved ones. In Mexico, twenty-one journalists have been killed with complete impunity in the past decade. And in India, where those targeted for murder are mostly rural and small-town journalists reporting on local corruption and politics, no one has been prosecuted for the murder of freelance journalist Jagendra Singh. Singh died from burns after a police raid at his home in 2015.
According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), in 2016 alone, sixty-six journalists have been killed so far around the globe.
Since 2011, members of the IFEX network, a global community of 109 local, regional, and international freedom of expression and civil society organizations including CPJ and IFJ, have spearheaded efforts to tackle the cycle that sustains and feeds a lack of accountability and to inspire a global response to the problem.
In collaboration with local groups, IFEX has launched an initiative focused on sustained and strategic advocacy and awareness raising on emblematic cases of impunity in Colombia, Pakistan and The Gambia.
IFJ is organizing a conference on November 7 in Brussels, Belgium entitled ‘Turning Words Into Actions’. The conference will bring together journalists, academics, representatives of international organizations, as well as relatives of slain journalists to discuss strategies for using local, national and international law to secure justice for victims.
For its part, CPJ has provided a detailed list of recommendations to national governments and political leaders, UN agencies, members of regional inter-governmental bodies, and local and international journalists, aimed at helping to bring perpetrators in crimes and abuses against journalists to justice.
By rallying around the International Day to End Impunity, the UN, together with civil society, is calling upon the international community this year to pressure states to do their part to protect the free flow of information and ensure that journalists do not pay for their work with their lives.
Keep up with activities taking place this week to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity by following the #NoImpunity and #EndImpunity hashtags on Twitter and Facebook.