International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

About the International Day to End Impunity

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.

This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, 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.

The focus on impunity of this resolution stems from the worrying situation that over the past decade, more than 800 journalists have been killed for bringing news and information to the public. In 2015 alone, the UNESCO Director-General condemned the killing of 115 journalists, media workers, and social media producers of public interest journalism. In 2012, the deadliest year for journalists, 123 cases were condemned.

These figures do not include the many more journalists who on a 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, less than one in ten cases committed against media workers 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 society including journalists themselves. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.

On November 17 this year, the 39 Member States of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for Development of Communication (IPDC) will receive the biennial report of the UNESCO Director-General on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity. The report provides an overview of killings of journalists condemned by UNESCO’s Director-General on 2014-2015, i.e. 98 in 2014 and 115 in 2015. The report also includes recent information from Member States as received by the Director-General regarding the current state of judiciary investigations about killings committed between 2006 and 2015. 

According to the 2016 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, eight per cent of the 827 cases of killings of journalists from 2006-2015 have been reported as resolved. Forty percent of the cases are considered as “ongoing”, meaning that either a police or judicial enquiry is reportedly still underway, or the cases have been archived or deemed to be unresolved. In 51 percent of the cases, either no information was received or the Member State in whose jurisdiction the killing occurred sent only an acknowledgment of receiving the Director-General’s request.

When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinions” will get ordinary people in trouble. Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.

Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The kind of news that gets “silenced” is exactly the kind that the public needs to know. Information is quintessential in order to make the best decisions in their lives, be it economic, social or political. This access to reliable and quality information is the very cornerstone of democracy, good governance, and effective institutions.

IDEI provides a strategic opportunity to 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 be other than the safety of journalists. For example, given the symbolic significance of journalists to the wider issue of impunity and justice, all of those who work in the rule of law system, such as people involved in legal and judicial processes, can be reached out to. Others who are concerned with public participation and citizen’s rights to speak out on various issues such as corruption or domestic violence will also share an interest in the resolution on combating impunity of attacks on journalists, who by definition are actors in the public eye, and whose situation sends a signal to society at large.

Significantly, the Finlandia Declaration of the 2016 World Press Freedom Day conference held at Helsinki in Finland acknowledges “that violations of press freedom also have an adverse impact on the right to information, including by the arbitrary blocking of access to online information, restricting expression online, and arbitrarily intruding on digital privacy, as well as the killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, deportations and other violations of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates.” In particular, it called on journalists, civil societies and internet intermediaries to “promote the safety of newsrooms and journalists online and offline through training, ICT applications, safety protocols and systems, as well the importance of confidentiality of journalistic sources in the digital age.”

It is in recognition of such far-reaching consequences of impunity, especially of crimes against journalists, that the UN has declared 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI). IDEI is of great significance to UN bodies, governments, the media, and to civil society as well as to potential new stakeholders where hitherto there have not been occasions to connect issues in mutual synergy. It also contributes to the new United Nations (UN) 2030 Development Agenda, and in particular Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies, which includes key points relevant to press freedom, access to information, safety of journalists and the rule of law.

For its part, UNESCO will work with its field offices around the world and with partners across the spectrum to ensure a success of this special opportunity to make a difference.