About the International Day to End Impunity

The United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution A/RES/68/163 at its 68th session in 2013 which proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ (IDEI). 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 focus on impunity of this resolution stems from the worrying situation that over the past decade, more than 700 journalists have been killed for bringing news and information to the public. In 2014 alone, the UNESCO Director-General condemned the killing of 87 journalists, media workers, and social media producers of public interest journalism. In 2012, the deadliest year for journalists, 123 cases were condemned.

These figures do not include the many more journalists who on a daily basis suffer from non-fatal attacks, including torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Furthermore, there are specific risks faced by women journalists including sexual attacks.

Worryingly, only one in ten cases committed against media workers over the past decade has led to a conviction. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society including journalists themselves. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.

According to the 2014 UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, less than seven percent of the 593 cases of killings of journalists from 2006-2013 have been resolved. A quarter of these cases are considered as “ongoing” referring to their continued investigations over the various stages of the judicial system. In 60 percent of the cases, no information on the judicial process was made available to UNESCO notwithstanding the Director-General’s requests for such.

When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinions” will get ordinary people in trouble. Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.

Society as a whole suffers from impunity. The kind of news that gets “silenced” is exactly the kind that the public needs to know. Information is quintessential in order to make the best decisions in their lives, be it economic, social or political. This access to reliable and quality information is the very cornerstone of democracy, good governance, and effective institutions.

It is in recognition of such far-reaching consequences of impunity, especially of crimes against journalists, that the UN has declared 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI).

IDEI provides a strategic opportunity to all stakeholders to focus public attention on the importance of ending impunity for crimes against journalists. It also opens new possibilities to draw in constituencies whose primary interests may be other than the safety of journalists. For example, given the symbolic significance of journalists to the wider issue of impunity and justice, all of those who work in the rule of law system, such as people involved in legal and judicial processes, can be reached out to. Others who are concerned with public participation and citizen’s rights to speak out on various issues such as corruption or domestic violence will also share an interest in the resolution on combating impunity of attacks on journalists, who by definition are actors in the public eye, and whose situation sends a signal to society at large.

Significantly, the Paris Declaration of the 2014 World Press Freedom Day conference held at UNESCO Headquarters states: “the continuing high level of killings of journalists calls for intensified action by international organizations, governments, media and other actors to give heightened attention to strengthening the safety of journalists and to bringing their killers to justice.” In particular, it called on journalists, professional and support associations, media outlets, internet intermediaries and social media practitioners to “support the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity with complementary or joint actions, and to enhance cooperation with each other.” A major opportunity for this is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

IDEI is of great significance to UN bodies, governments, the media, and to civil society as well as to potential new stakeholders where hitherto there have not been occasions to connect issues in mutual synergy. Therefore it is a very promising platform that can make a valuable contribution to the safety of journalists in the interest of societal development as a whole.

For its part, UNESCO will work with its field offices around the world and with partners across the spectrum to ensure a success of this special opportunity to make a difference.

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