To end impunity for crimes against journalists, UN moves towards putting resolutions into practice

UNESCO marked the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ at UN Headquarters in New York with an event entitled “Ending impunity for crimes against journalists: putting resolutions into practice”. The event highlighted safety for journalists and the issues of impunity, and according to Ambassador Boura of Greece, the day “should remind us of our duty to guarantee freedom of speech and its importance to our open democracy.”

The meeting started off by paying tribute to the writer and blogger Avijit Roy who was killed in February 2015 in Bangladesh and his wife Rafida Bonya Ahmed who was severely wounded during the attack. Ms Bonya Ahmed highlighted the necessity to end impunity for crimes against witters, bloggers and publishers, saying: “they used to attack in the dark, now the extent of impunity is so great that they attack us in the broad day light, in front of thousands of people.”

Next to the widow of Avijit Roy, the panel was composed of Professor Rosental Alves, Director of the Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin (USA), and UNESCO Chair holder in communication, who also moderated the session; Ambassador Catherine Boura, Permanent Representative of Greece to the UN; Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaité, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the UN; Mr Edric Selous, Director, Rule of Law Unit, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General;  Mr Veran Matic, Chair of Serbia's Commission for investigating killing of journalists; and Ms Delphine Halgand, Director of Washington Bureau, Reporters without Borders.

Ambassador Murmokaité of Lithuania put emphasis on the important role of Member States in implementing the international norms already in place. She noted that civil society and regional organizations also had a part to play in the implementation, calling on authorities and governments, and connected the safety of journalists and issue of impunity with the fight against extremism and radicalization.

Mr Selous from the UNSG’s Rule of Law Unit brought in the human rights perspective to the discussion underscoring that “the right to freedom of expression embodies the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights”. He emphasised that fighting impunity for crimes committed against them is central to that safety. “A rule of law system needs the social accountability that free media provide through the dissemination of information. And a rule of law system also needs effective judicial accountability mechanisms to ensure that violations of the laws have a consequence and that perpetrators of crimes against journalists are brought to justice,” he concluded.

Rafida Bonya Ahmed stressed the alarming situation being faced by so many bloggers and publishers in her country. She called for a firm approach to combat ever growing problem of violence and extremism, and suggested the establishment of safe houses that can provide temporarily residence to journalists in danger as a concrete measure against this concerning trend. “I am pleading to the International community to pay attention”, she concluded. “These brave journalists, writers, bloggers, publishers love their country and want to make a difference in their own homeland.”

Serbia's Commission for investigating killing of journalists is the first such commission trying to resolve crimes against journalists, Mr Veran Matic explained. He noted his hopes that this could be a model to be replicated around the world. Ms Delphine Halgand from Reporters without Borders also pointed to the current lack of means of ensuring compliance with the norms. In order to empower the UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the vital role of UNESCO as the United Nations agency with a mandate to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press, she argued for the creation of the position of a Special Representative of the Secretary General for the safety of journalists with the main task of monitoring compliance and reporting to the UN Security Council where sanctions could be applied.

The commemoration of the IDEI also served as on occasion to present UNESCO’s Report “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development - Special Digital Focus 2015”, which explores four major themes related to press freedom in the digital age: 1) Counting online hate speech; 2) Protecting of journalism sources; 3) The Role of internet intermediaries in fostering freedom online; and 4) The Safety of journalists.

The event was webcast on UN Web TV and a video of it can be viewed at: mms://stream.unesco.org/vod/021115_end_impunity_en.wmv

Information for this event along with all background material are accessible at the dedicated webpage for IDEI 2015: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/EndImpunity