November 2nd marked the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
United Nations Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon, honoured the deaths of journalists and media reporters killed in the line of duty. He called on greater communitarian support and collective action to safeguard the rights of journalists to speak the truth.
“More than 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade – one every five days – simply for bringing news and information to the public. Many perish in the conflicts they cover so fearlessly. But all too many have been deliberately silenced for trying to report the truth,” said Mr. Ban.
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova echoed this statement. She publicly condemned the deaths of over 540 journalists and media reporters who made substantial contributions in their fields.
Her message was simple: journalists should be able to report freely, without engaging in self-censorship just because they fear for their lives.
It was in 2013 when this movement began, after the assassination of two French journalists in Mali. Despite the year-by-year institutional push for action, coupled with alarming statistics in UNESCO reports on trends in freedom of expression and media development, one might ask, what is really being done to protect those citizens who risk their lives to provide us the truth?
Over the past year, the UN Human Rights office has raised several issues related to the security of journalists in over 70 different countries worldwide.
In many cases, impunity is largely an issue of poor and incomplete investigation of journalist killings. The most recent UNESCO report stated that a mere 7% of cases are officially investigated and fully resolved. One suggestion is that greater attention needs to be given to the creation of special investigative units, specialized training for law enforcement and judicial officers, and closer cooperation with parties on a regional scale in order to focus particularly on the brutalities that take place in conflict zones.
To accelerate the agenda, UNESCO has devised the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This is the first collaborative mechanism that has been proposed to raise the efforts of local UN agencies, governments and civil society groups. So far, advocacy, research and training programs have been set up in countries such as Tunisia, Nepal, Pakistan and South Sudan. These nations are making efforts to strengthen the cooperation between different sectors of the media in order to collectively increase security against threats to journalists.
Of course, like many UN plans of action, we can be wary of the success this one will have. Efforts to facilitate changes in the judicial systems of a nation should not get tied up in bureaucracy or corruption.
Each time a perpetrator of a crime is allowed to escape punishment, it sends a message that other criminals can also get away with similar acts of violence. Countries need to establish stronger legislations, investigative and judiciary forces, and implement protection mechanisms.
However, this is also a matter of political will. An Al Jazeera report states,
“even in the most difficult conflict situations, we cannot allow impunity to stand – we must insist on justice being done.”
This implies putting up a strong front to violence extremists and hateful propaganda that invokes fear.
Journalists and media reporters do their duty by uncovering truths of conflicts and brutalities around the world – they willingly venture into the unknown to educate the public and bring to our eyes the true story. While governments most certainly need to take action, we too can protect our fundamental freedoms of expression by disseminating the message through social media. This can be our role in accelerating the momentum.
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