UNESCO Director-General's Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity
An important step in addressing the high levels of killings of journalists is combatting impunity. Impunity fuels and perpetuates a cycle of violence against journalists and creates a chilling effect upon society. A distinctive feature of the UNESCO Director-General’s Report designed to end this cycle is the Director-General’s monitoring of the status of judicial enquiries into the killings.
The Director-General’s request to Member States for information on judicial follow up is sent out on an annual basis. The status of judicial inquiries presented in the Report is based on the information provided on a voluntary basis by the Member States.
The term ‘journalist’ in the UNESCO Director-General’s Report covers “journalists, media workers and social media producers who are engaged in journalistic activity”, in line with IPDC Decisions on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity adopted by the IPDC Council in 2008, 2010,2012,2014,2016, 2018 and 2020.
The cases of killings have been identified based on reports from multiple sources, including from international, regional and local monitoring groups; UNESCO field offices; UNESCO Permanent Delegations; and other UN bodies.
Status of Investigations
The cases of killings of journalists are systematically condemned by Director-General of UNESCO through press releases. General Conference 29 C/Resolution 29 (1997) mandates the Director-General to “condemn assassination and any physical violence against journalists as a crime against society, since this curtails freedom of expression and, as a consequence, the other rights and freedoms set forth in international human rights instruments”. This mandate has been reinforced by other resolutions, such as General Conference 36 C/Resolution 53 (2011), which calls on UNESCO to monitor the status of press freedom and safety of journalists in coordination with other UN bodies.
The information provided by Member States has been analyzed for the purpose of this study and categorized as follows:
The status of a case regarding the killing of a journalist is considered as “Resolved” if the Member State has provided one or more of the following responses to the Director-General’s request to provide information concerning the status of the investigation:
a) The perpetrator(s) of the crime has (/have) been brought to justice and been convicted by a court of law.
b) The suspected perpetrator(s) of the crime died before a court case could take place or be completed.
c) The judicial process has revealed that the death was not related to the victim’s journalistic practice.
d) The perpetrator(s) of the crime has (/have) been determined and sentenced, but due to a Presidential Pardon or Amnesty Law, they are released before their sentence has been carried out fully.
The Director-General no longer requests status updates once a case is deemed to have been resolved. However, a case may be moved back to the “Ongoing/Unresolved” category if UNESCO is informed of new developments concerning the case, such as an appeal, occurring at national, regional or international courts.In these cases, UNESCO will resume requesting status updates from the concerned Member State.
The status of a case regarding the killing of a journalist is considered as “Ongoing/Unresolved” if the Member State has provided one of the following responses to the Director-General’s request to provide information concerning the status of the investigation:
a) The case is currently being investigated by law enforcement agencies or other relevant authorities.
b) The case has been taken up by the judicial system but a final verdict has not yet been reached and the suspect(s) has (/have) not been convicted and sentenced. The “Ongoing/Unresolved” category also applies to cases where an appeal is ongoing or where only one of the suspected killers has been convicted and sentenced.
c) The journalist has been reported by the Member State as having been killed by foreign actors beyond national jurisdiction.
d) A court of law has acquitted the suspected perpetrator(s) of the crime (for example due to lack of or tampered evidence).
e) A court of law has ruled to archive the case or is otherwise unable to be processed through the judiciary system (for example, due to statutes of limitations). This category therefore also includes those cases for which a judicial process has been completed, but where no person(s) has (/have) yet been successfully held accountable in terms of due legal process, and hence where impunity in regard to the killing(s) still remains unresolved.
The Director-General continues to request status updates for all of the above cases, except in the instances where it is explicitly mentioned that the case has been judicially archived.
3. “No information received so far”
‘Acknowledgments’ are included in this category insofar as they do not include any specific information on the judicial follow-up into the cases of killings of journalists condemned by the Director-General.
The Director-General continues to request status updates for such cases.
Categorization of Member State’s reactions:
When a Member State sends concrete information regarding the judicial process following the killing of a journalist, this is considered a response to the Director-General’s request.
When a Member States acknowledges the receipt of the request (either by letter or by e-mail) and indicates further action, but does not deliver concrete information regarding specific cases, this is considered an acknowledgement.