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Wed, 20 Nov 2019 11:13 GMT

UN International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

Media & Culture

Sara Colquhoun

Sat, 02 Nov 2019 11:36 GMT

Each year one journalist gets a Pulitzer Prize and one hundred get shot

Today Saturday November 2nd, marks the United Nations International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, a long title that highlights a rising and increasing risk to the world’s news gatherers. Over 1,000 journalists have been killed in the past twelve years, simply in pursuit of their professional quest to report the news and bring information to the public. 

The date was chosen as it was the day that two French journalists working in Mali on stories about the country’s struggle against violence and extremism, Ghislaine Dupont, 51, and Claude Verlon, 58 were kidnapped and then savagely assassinated. Their killers never brought to justice.   

In the words of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “when journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. Without the ability to protect journalists, our ability to remain informed and contribute to decision-making is severely hampered.”

In most cases, calculated at nine out of ten, the killers go unpunished, which leads to more killings, and is often a symptom of worsening conflicts, and the breakdown of judicial systems. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has voiced concern that societies that condone such murders are indicating that they are covering up endemic serious human rights abuses, corruption and crime.

The UN today offers a roll call of murdered journalists, whose stories they have highlighted. Maltese journalist and blogger, Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, was killed in a car bomb attack in 2017. She was investigating government corruption, nepotism and patronage in Malta. Paul Rivas, 45, an Ecuadorian photographer, who with his colleagues, reporter Javier Ortega and driver Efrain Segarra, were taken hostage by an armed group and killed while reporting in Colombia, they risked their lives to know the truth, because of their investigations into drug-related border violence. 

According to the pressure group, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Global Impunity Index, the reason for this rise in journalists’ deaths is a deadly cycle of violence and impunity caused by wars and political instability, along with worldwide inaction. The 13 countries that are the worst offenders represent a mix of conflict-ridden regions, and more stable countries where criminal groups and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical and investigative reporting.

The CPJ cites unchecked corruption, ineffective institutions, and a lack of political will, due to the dangers of pursuing robust investigations as major factors behind impunity for killing journalists. They point out that anti-press violence has also spread to places previously considered reasonably safe for the media, such as the murder of Slovakian journalist Jan Kuciac, which has, according to the CPJ, “put journalists in the European Union on notice that covering crime and corruption can be deadly.”

The three top countries on the CPJ index for those with the worst record are Somalia, Syria and Iraq, and this year Mexico is the world’s most deadly country for journalists, because criminal cartels have waged a campaign of terror against the media. For the over 31 murders of journalists that have taken place in Mexico this year so far, the authorities have only secured one conviction.

More than 2,500 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1990, and all agencies agree that there is a rising trend for journalists being targeted for the work that they do. According to Robert Mahoney from CPJ, the high-profile kidnapping and beheadings of foreign journalists since 2012, has made news organisations change their policies, with fewer correspondents going into war zones, so that local journalists continue to “bear the brunt of the deaths.”  

According to Mahoney, “sometimes they’ll pick up the gunman or hired assassin but the thing we see as complete impunity is how the real killer, the person who ordered the death, does not come to justice.”  

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