When attack on journalists remain unpunished, this send a very negative message that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinion” will get a reporter in trouble. The population loses confidence in its judiciary system that is meant to protect everyone from attack on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize that they can attack their target without ever facing justice.
Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The kind of news that gets “silence” is exactly the kind that the public need to know. The public need to be informed in order to make the best decision in their lives; be it economic, social and political. This access to reliable and quality information is the very cornerstone of democracy, governance and effective institutions.
It is in recognition of these far reaching consequences of impunity, especially of crimes against journalists, that the United National (UN) has declared 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French Journalists in Mali on 2 November, 2013.
The landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and urges member states to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists, to ensure accountability and bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists; and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon states to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
Over the past decade more than 700 journalists have been killed for bringing news and information to the public. In 2012 alone, the UNESCO Director-General condemned the killing of 123 journalists. In 2013, the figure decreased slightly to 91, but still represented the second deadliest for journalists.
According to International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) statistics, 118 journalists lost their lives when carrying out their duties in 2014. Today only one out of 10 killings in the media is investigated.
These figures do not include the many more journalists who on daily basis suffer from non-fatal attacks, including torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Furthermore, there are specific risks faced by women journalists including sexual attacks.
Worryingly, only one in ten cases committed against journalists over the past decade has led to a conviction. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on the society including journalists themselves. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious circle.
According to the UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, less than six percent of the 593 cases of killing of journalists from 2006-2013 have been resolved. A quarter of the cases are considered as “ongoing” as their investigations continue in various stages of the judicial system. In sixty percent of the cases, no information on judicial process has been made available to UNESCO, notwithstanding the Director-General’s request for such.
In a day like this, there is a strategic opportunity for all stakeholders to focus public attention on the importance of ending impunity for crimes against journalists. It also opens new possibilities to draw in constituencies whose primary interests may not directly linked with safety of journalists such as those who work in the rule of law system and people involved in legal and judicial processes. Others who are concerned with public participation and citizen’s right are to speak out on various issues such as corruption or domestic violence which will also share an interest in the resolution of combating of attacks on journalists who by definition are actors in the public eye, and whose situation sends a signal to society at large.
Organizations within international civil society have long been active in the war against impunity for many years. The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of free expressions organizations, had previously operated a three week long campaign each year ending on 23 November 2011, to raise awareness and fight the culture of impunity. This campaign encourages individuals to take action while different local organizations host different events around the world. The culminating date of the 23rd is the anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre which happened on 23 November 2009 in Philippines, when convoys of over 50 people were killed.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also runs a global campaign against impunity. The “Speak Justice Voices against impunity” is a digital campaign that raises awareness of the issues and driving the global call for justice.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the umbrella group for over 600, 000 journalists worldwide conducted campaigns that urges authorities of the country with the highest tolls of journalists to investigate these killing and bring their perpetrators to justice.
Other International NGOs such as Reporters without Borders ( RSF), The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) Press Emblem campaign (PEC) International Press Institute (IPI), World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMAR C) World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) have also been consistent in their campaigns.
It is expected that combined efforts by all these groups will add energies and actions into the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
The writer, Bamidele, is Secretary, National Monitoring Network on Safety of Journalists (NMNSJ)