United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice commits to end impunity for crimes against journalists

On 7 March 2021, in Kyoto (Japan) the 14th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted its final Declaration which calls for action by Member States to “Investigate, prosecute and punish threats and acts of violence, falling within their jurisdiction, committed against journalists and media workers, (…) with a view to ending impunity for crimes committed against them”.

This is the first time since its creation in 1955 that the UN Crime Congress recognized the specific threats faced by journalists because of their role in uncovering corruption and organized crime, and called for renewed global cooperation to end impunity for crimes committed against them.

Journalists, as public watchdogs of our societies, face serious threats when covering stories related to corruption, organized and transnational crime, human rights violations, trafficking, and political wrongdoings. The international community must stand together to protect journalists, and to end impunity for the crimes and attacks that aim to silence them.
Guilherme Canela, Chief of UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists’ Section

According to UNESCO data, over 1,200 journalists have been killed between 2006 and 2020, with close to 9 out of 10 cases of these killings remaining judicially unresolved. The staggering rate of impunity for such crimes sends a chilling message and perpetuates a cycle of violence against journalists that deprives all citizens of their right to freedom of expression and access to information.

Since its creation, the UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice has had a significant impact in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice and has influenced national and international policies and professional practices. By committing to improve investigations and prosecutions for crimes and attacks against journalists, the final Declaration effectively set this issue within the wider framework of combating organized crime, which will serve to define the penal policy of the international community for the next five years.

In addition, the Declaration also called for “effective, accountable, impartial and inclusive institutions”, noting the fundamental need to guarantee the independence of the judiciary and to ensure “the fair, effective, accountable, transparent and appropriate administration and delivery of justice”. In line with the Sustainable Development Goal 16.10, the judiciary has a key role to play in tackling organized crime, as well as in protecting freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.

To that effect, since 2013, UNESCO and its partners have trained over 18,000 judicial actors and 8,500 security forces on international and regional standards on freedom of expression, in order to foster a freer and safer environment for journalists and media workers around the world.

Organized in a hybrid format, with in-person and virtual components, the Congress gathered over 5,600 participants, including representatives from 152 Member States, 37 intergovernmental organizations, 114 non-governmental organizations, 600 individual experts and a number of UN entities and institutes.