By Janet Sankale
Some 44 journalists have been killed in 2021, and many more were attacked, harassed, or unlawfully imprisoned, according to the Unesco Observatory of Killed Journalists.
Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 journalists were killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. In nine out of 10 cases the killers go unpunished, the UN body’s report said on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on November 2, 2021.
“The observatory is an online database providing information on the status of judicial enquiries into each killing of a journalist or media worker recorded by Unesco since 1993, based on information provided by the country in which the killing took place,” Unesco explains on its site.
To raise awareness and formulate ways to counter these incidents, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) declared November 2 the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. The day was chosen in memory of 58-year old Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, 51, two French radio journalists who were abducted and killed in Mali on November 2, 2013, shortly after interviewing a local official of a separatist group.
In 2013, the UNGA passed a resolution, not only to condemn attacks on journalists but also to urge member states to protect journalists from threats to their lives and ensure that the victims get access to the required remedies.
In a message to mark the day this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted that many journalists had lost their lives covering conflict, but the number of media workers killed outside the conflict zones has risen in recent years.
“In many countries, simply investigating corruption, trafficking, human rights violations or environmental issues puts journalists’ lives at risk,” he said.
Guterres has also urged member states and the international community to stand in solidarity with journalists around the world and to demonstrate the political will needed to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and media workers with the full force of the law.
Unesco Director-General Audrey Azoulay said that for too many journalists, “telling the truth comes at a price”.
“Since 2017, the majority of these crimes have taken place outside of countries experiencing armed conflict – more than 60% of killings in 2020. In other words, journalists are not only dying in the crossfire of war – they are also being targeted for exposing wrongdoing and speaking truth to power.
“States thus have an obligation to protect journalists and to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against them are punished. Judges and prosecutors, in particular, have an important role to play in promoting swift and effective criminal proceedings,” she said.
The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists was launched and held its first hearing to mark the day.
Press freedom groups Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders are the force behind the tribunal, whose purpose is to hold governments accountable for journalists’ deaths.
The tribunal aims to investigate, document, pursue justice, and “create a safer world for the truth”. It doesn’t have the power to call for the arrest of anyone found guilty, but it is a first step in pursuing justice for journalists around the world who are killed for doing their jobs. It will focus on cases in Mexico, Syria, and Sri Lanka and is expected to issue a judgment on May 3, 2022.
The murders of López Velasco from Mexico, Lasantha Wickrematunge from Sri Lanka, and Nabil Al-Sharbaji from Syria are being highlighted in the tribunal’s investigation in The Hague.
The organisers said at least 1,400 journalists have been killed while doing their job since 1992. In at least 900 of the cases, journalists were killed in direct reprisal for their work. In 86 per cent of these cases, none of the perpetrators are brought to justice.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2021 Global Impunity Index, no one has been held to account during the past 10 years. The group said the five top offenders are Somalia, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, and Afghanistan, in that order.
The United States condemned threats, harassment, and violence targeting journalists and media workers.
“Increasingly, these threats come from governments reaching beyond their borders, including through misuse of digital surveillance tools that track journalists’ communications and whereabouts, to constrain the ability of journalists to report on government corruption or repression. No members of the press should be threatened, harassed, physically attacked, or arrested for doing their job,” it said in a statement.
This year’s theme focuses on the key aspect of prosecutorial services, which includes a deep look at investigating and prosecuting not just assassinations but all kinds of threats of violence towards journalists.
This year’s commemorations will pave the way for the 10-year anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity to be marked in 2022.
The UN Plan of Actions aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. Its measures include, among other undertakings, the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists as well as assist countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.