End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
As the world recognizes International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, I sit comfortably at my desk in the headquarters of the leading professional organization for journalists in the United States, fully aware that on the rare times that a journalist has been killed on U.S. soil, authorities have acted quickly to find and charge the suspect.
But that’s the United States.
I’ve had desks in other countries, too. India. Austria. Ghana. The Bahamas. And in some of those countries, like in many others around the world, journalists are killed with impunity – their murderers seemingly allowed to walk away without punishment.
According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (better known as UNESCO), over the past 12 years, 1,000 journalists were killed around the world and in nine out of 10 cases, those who commit the crimes are never brought to justice. It is a devasting number.
Every time a journalist is killed, a community or people lose an advocate. Every time a journalist is killed, it is an affront to democracy and to Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
On Nov. 2, press freedom fighters and other defenders of a free and independent media around the world rally to push for better mechanisms and a greater commitment to bringing the killers of journalists to justice. Even if the killers of journalists are governments themselves.
International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists is also dedicated to the memory of the 34 journalists murdered in the Philippines on Nov. 23, 2009 as they accompanied the family of Esmael Mangudadat to file his papers as gubernatorial candidate for Maguindanao, in the southern Philippines. The van carrying the journalists, Mangudadat’s close family members and staff aides was ambushed allegedly by a power political rival. The massacre has been called the deadliest attack on journalists in history. Nine years after that attack, few, if any, have been prosecuted.
So far this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 45 journalists have been murdered worldwide. Of the 45, the majority were killed in Afghanistan, with Syria coming in as the second deadliest place for journalists and Mexico, Yemen and India tying for third place. It’s a horrible contest to be in. Consistently, Afghanistan, Syria, Philippines and Mexico are listed among the worst countries for finding and prosecuting attackers of journalists.
Too often, when journalists are murdered, so are their stories. And those stories are usually stories that can change lives, that can lead to new and better laws, procedures, processes and even greater equality.
Around the world, journalists face online, physical and verbal threats while navigating communities that don’t trust them and who buy into the rhetoric that they are the enemy of the people. Now more than ever they need support; they need people to say no to the assault on democracy and a free press, whether you’re at a desk in the United States or one in Mexico.
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