When the UN General Assembly created International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on 13 December 2013, it designated 2 November, the anniversary of the murder of the two Radio France Internationale journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in Kidal, Mali, in 2013.
Reporters Without Borders has chosen these 10 cases to put names and faces to the tragic statistics and to show the scale and different forms that impunity can take. The resources deployed by authorities to solve these and many other cases have been either non-existent or hopelessly inadequate. More than 90 percent of crimes against journalists are never solved and therefore never punished.
These ten impunity cases are presented on a specially created website, http://fightimpunity.org/en. Some of the victims disappeared, such Mexican crime reporter María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe, Abidjan-based French journalist Guy-André Kieffer, Iranian newspaper editor Pirouz Davani and Sri Lankan political analyst and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda.
Some were murdered such as Pakistani reporter Syed Saleem Shahzad, the young Serbian journalist Dada Vujasinovic, the Beirut-based columnist Samir Kassir and the Dagestani journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev, who was gunned down in 2013.
Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality, has been held incommunicado in Eritrean President Issayas Aferworki’s hellish prison camps for the past 13 years, while police officers tortured Bahraini reporter Nazeeha Saeed for covering pro-democracy demonstrations.
“We must never abandon journalists who are the victims of crimes, not even posthumously,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “The ten impunity cases we are presenting are shocking examples of incompetence or wilful inaction by officials who should be punishing despicable crimes against those who have tried to describe reality as it is.
“Such a level of impunity just encourages those who commit these abuses. International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is an occasion for paying tribute to the victims, reminding governments of their obligation to protect journalists and combat impunity, and reminding those who target journalists that one day they will be held to account for their actions.”
Whether killed execution-style, blown-up by a bomb, tortured to death or disappeared, these journalists paid the price for their commitment to freedom of information. They were targeted for investigating corruption or drug trafficking, for criticizing the government or intelligence agencies or for drawing attention to human rights violations. Some of the cases have become emblematic, others are less well known.
Those responsible were many and varied, and include governments, armed groups and hit-men. RWB blames the shortcomings of police and justice systems for the failures to solve these cases or to convict the perpetrators and instigators.
Around 800 journalists have been killed in connection with their work in the past decade. The deadliest year was 2012, with 88 journalists killed. The number of killed fell slightly in 2013 but the figures for physical attacks and threats against journalists continued to rise. At total of 56 journalists have been killed since the start of 2014.
To combat impunity, Reporters Without Borders is calling for the creation of the position of special adviser to the UN secretary-general on the safety of journalists. Creating such a post at the heart of the UN system would enable monitoring and verification of states’ compliance with their obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1738 and the General Assembly resolution of 18 December 2013.
Adopted on 23 December 2006, Resolution 1738 reminds states of their “obligations under international law to end impunity.” The resolution passed by the UN General Assembly on 18 December 2013 calls on states to conduct “impartial, speedy and effective investigations into all alleged violence against journalists (...) to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.”
A resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on 19 September called in similar terms for an end to impunity. A proper international monitoring and verification mechanism is needed so that all these resolutions can be implemented.
RWB is also calling for an amendment to article 8 of the International Criminal Court’s statute so that deliberate attacks on journalists, media workers and associated personnel are defined as war crimes. As a member of the French coalition of the ICC, it is urging states to pass legislation allowing them, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute those in their territory who committed grave crimes in another country.
The European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have ruled that respect for freedom of information not only requires states to abstain from arbitrarily interfering in the use of the right to information but also requires them to protect journalists and prosecute those who target them.
RWB calls on states to implement these provisions by conducting immediate, effective and independent investigations into attacks against journalists and prosecuting those responsible.
The authorities that conduct these investigations must be able to resist any political, diplomatic or technical pressure or obstacles they may encounter. In some ongoing cases, RWB has seen how the threat of ending a judicial investigation represents a victory for impunity.