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End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly established 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists to honour journalists killed while reporting and to raise awareness about the current rates of unpunished acts of violence against media workers.



Protecting journalists is part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, supporting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions). Both SDGs focus on providing a just, safe and equal-opportunity environment for all citizens. With SDG 16 reinforcing the goal of ensuring strong policies to guarantee accountability for crimes and access to justice for all, our efforts must also be directed at providing this justice for crimes against journalists, which are rising at an alarming rate internationally.


Canada was one of 42 signatories of the Global Pledge on Media Freedom and is aligning its policy with the UN Plan of Action, facilitating the building of international governments and civil society coalitions, and creating national media safety policies in at least 50 countries.


Unfortunately, year-on-year statistics show little improvement or change.


According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international non-profit organization that promotes press freedom, no one has been held accountable for about 80 per cent of journalist murders in the last decade. The Committee’s latest Global Impunity Index shows dramatic statistics of unpunished crimes against media workers in multiple countries, including Somalia, Mexico, Brazil and the Philippines.


Russia and Belarus were not included in the CPJ’s index as the organization counts only countries where five or more journalists have been murdered in an index period—both countries recorded three to four unsolved journalist murders in the period. However, the freedom of the press in many countries that fall below the five-murder threshold is still in jeopardy.

 

UNESCO data shows a growing rate of crime against the freedom of the press. In 2022, at least 88 journalists were killed in the field—a sharp increase from preceding years.

 

In Russia, at least 25 journalists have been killed in retaliation for their work since 1999. Since the start of the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Russia’s remaining independent media outlets were shut down under legal and regulatory pressures—thousands of journalists had to flee the country.


Last year, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported on the pressing issue of the killing of journalists in occupied Palestinian territory after the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May 2022. Former High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet called for Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s death and other journalist deaths and injuries in the West Bank and Gaza.


Yet, in May 2023, UN experts found no accountability, renewing their call for justice.


According to Time magazine, journalists killed during the Israel-Hamas war surpassed death levels during the Russia-Ukraine war—so far. Ten journalists were killed within a week of October 2023 while covering Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. The Israeli airstrikes and power and communication disruptions are jeopardizing accurate reporting. Journalists are also struggling to protect themselves and their loved ones.


Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, told Time magazine he was concerned about the high rate of misinformation and disinformation.


“A war without journalists is just a war of propaganda”, Deloire said.


“So many journalists are paying with their lives”, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a press conference on 13 October. “The work they do, to bring truth to everybody in the world, and I present to their families my deepest condolences”.


“We need States to step up their monitoring of violations against journalists and media freedom, with laws that safeguard media freedom, in line with international human rights law. And we need much more effective action by police and justice systems to investigate and prosecute crimes that target journalists because of their work,” added Volker Türk, Acting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, on 2 November 2023.

The number of unresolved journalist murders around the world while promoting the freedom of information and covering a conflict cannot be trusted—the essence of the freedom of knowing the truth of the events in those war-torn areas is compromised by these murders. With so many wars occupying our newsfeeds today, we must include some margin of error in that number, thinking about the atrocities not making their way to these newsfeeds.


While the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, in Istanbul was internationally condemned and “caused a diplomatic crisis between Saudi Arabia and some of its closest allies, including the US”, this investigative success in similar cases is rare. Canada did not stay away from Khashoggi’s case then and should not stay away now, as many journalist murder cases are left unresolved around the world.


Promoting and protecting the freedom of the press is critical for the Canadian government. According to the government of Canada, “…media freedom remains an important part of democratic societies and [is] essential to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.


In line with this statement, we call on the government of Canada and the international community to end the violence against journalists and facilitate policy-making to ensure journalists’ safety while reporting on events, both in Canada and abroad.


Together with United Nations Secretary-General Guterres, we demand justice for journalists killed during their work and continuous support for victims and survivors.


Edited by Angel Xing and Ali Shahrukh Pracha

Image by Terje Sollie

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