Safety of journalists and ending impunity in conflict situations

31Oct 2019
The Guardian
Safety of journalists and ending impunity in conflict situations

In the past twelve years more than 1,000 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished.

Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. UNESCO is concerned that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’. 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 day draws attention to the low global conviction rate for violent crimes against journalists and media workers, estimated at only one in every ten cases.  As these individuals play a critical role in informing and influencing the public about important social issues, impunity for attacks against them has a particularly damaging impact, limiting public awareness and constructive debate. 

On 2 November, organisations and individuals worldwide are encouraged to talk about the unresolved cases in their countries, and write to government and intra-governmental officials to demand action and justice. UNESCO organises an awareness-raising campaign on the findings of the UNESCO director-general's biennial report on the safety of journalists and the danger of impunity,  which catalogues the responses of states to UNESCO’s formal request for updates on progress in cases of killings of journalists and media workers. UNESCO and civil society groups throughout the world also use 2 November as a launch date for other reports, events and other advocacy initiatives relating to the problem of impunity for crimes against freedom of expression.

International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) a global network of civil society organisations that defend and promote the right to freedom of expression, declared 23 November as the International Day to End Impunity in 2011. The anniversary was chosen to mark the 2009 Ampatuan massacre (also known as the Maguindanao massacre), the single deadliest attack against journalists in recent history, in which 57 individuals were murdered, including 32 journalists and media workers.

In December 2013, after substantial lobbying from IFEX members and other civil society defenders of freedom of expression, the 70th plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly passed resolution  , recognising 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.  The date of the UN day marks the death of Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, two French journalists killed while reporting in Mali earlier that year.

IFEX now coordinates the No Impunity Campaign,  which advocates year-round for all individuals violently targeted for their free expression.

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