Tag Archives: Impunity

Getting UNGA to get real on press freedom

Joel Simon from the Committee to Protect Journalists has a featured piece in Columbia Journalism Review on how the United Nations should — but really can’t — do something about press freedom.

What can the UN do for press freedom?

Bottom line: Not much, but it can make some nice statements.

Responding to an upsurge in media killings, particularly of journalists working in conflict zones, the UN has prioritized the issue of journalists’ safety in recent years. In 2012, UNESCO, the UN agency charged with defending press freedom, launched a Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The following year, the General Assembly passed a resolution to create an International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists, marked each year on November 2.

In July 2013, Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, become the first ever journalist to address the Security Council. She noted, “Most journalists who die today are not caught in some wartime crossfire, they are murdered just because of what they do. And those murders are rarely ever solved; the killers rarely ever punished.” Last May, the Security Council passed a historic resolution reaffirming the international legal protections for journalists covering armed conflict. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regularly condemns the killing of journalists, and calls on member states to take action.

All of these measures are important, and have tremendous symbolic value. But it is difficult to point to concrete advances in response to UN action. In fact, the level of violence against journalists has increased in recent years, and imprisonment of journalists around the world has reached record levels. Recent high-profile cases—including the conviction of three Al Jazeera reporters in Egypt; the ongoing imprisonment of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian in Iran; and the seven-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to renowned investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova in Azerbaijan—demonstrate that when it comes to imprisoning journalists, repressive governments are increasingly unresponsive to international pressure.

Simon argues journalists, diplomats and other human rights defenders need to use the occasion of the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, when leaders from around the world come to New York to argue for more action to protect journalists in their home countries.

Over the years, the Committee to Protect Journalists, which I head, has used the General Assembly to secure commitments from a number of heads of state, including former President Vicente Fox of Mexico, who agreed to appoint a special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, who committed during a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations to receive a CPJ delegation in Ankara.

Simon says this one-on-one approach should not let the United Nations, itself, off the hook, but it appears to the only way — for now — to get things done.

He argues journalists should demand accountability from the leaders who speak a the UNGA for their violations of press freedom. By just reporting the speeches and not looking at the records of the speakers, journalists become accomplices in efforts to whitewash media repression.

This item was initially posted at the SPJ International Community site: Journalism and the World.

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Filed under Press Freedom

New campaign to free journalists

Thanks to Roy Greenslade at The Guardian for pointing out the new Reporters Without Borders campaign to help journalists in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and China.

Press freedom body highlights plight of Eritrea’s jailed journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RWB), the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, has launched a fund-raising campaign based around the plight of jailed journalists inEritrea, China and Saudi Arabia.

The Eritrean prisoner is Dawit Isaak, who has been imprisoned without trial for 13 years after being arrested along with other newspaper editors in 2001.

Isaak is reported to be dying slowly in a prison camp where detainees are tortured by being shut inside steel containers during periods of intense heat. And RWB has used that image of a container to publicise its campaign.

Read full article here.


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Filed under Africa, China, Middle East, Press Freedom

Few killers get caught

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a new report that is depressing.

Breaking the Cycle of Impunity in the Killing of Journalists looks at the how too many governments do little to seriously track down the murderers of journalists.

Of course, this failure also makes it nearly impossible to determine if the killing of a journalist was directly related to his/her profession or if there were other issues involved.

The demand for proof that a journalist was killed in the line of duty is one of the things I really like about how CPJ prepares its list of murdered journalists. Some organizations just list the names of journalists killed. They leave the assumption that they were killed because of their profession. But there is no way this can ever be verified.

The weak political and legal systems in the countries where this issues is the greatest are what need to be addressed along with the name and shame campaign of impunity. Perhaps a major step forward in finding the murderers of journalists (and human rights lawyers and taxi drivers and reform politicians) is finding ways to help those governments who want to improve and strengthen their legal systems, instead of cutting off aid and support.

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Filed under Harassment, Killings

Photo Contest to End Impunity

Gotta hand it to the folks at IFEX. 

They just launched a contest that can involve anyone and everyone around the world. This time it is a photo contest to combat impunity.

What are the guidelines?

Submissions should convey the impact of impunity on freedom of expression. Suggested themes are:

  • The courage of those fighting impunity
  • Activism, protests, and challenging injustice
  • A culture of fear and silence
  • Individuals targeted for exposing corruption, human rights violations, and organised crime, while the perpetrators go free
  • Corruption, broken judicial systems and justice denied

I can think of loads of examples in just about every country I have lived in and visited.

The contest is to highlight International Day to End Impunity, which is November 23. The deadline for submission is November 3.

According to IFEX, they picked November 23 because it is the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, the single deadliest day for journalists in recent history. Activities for the day are designed to raise public awareness and showcase the work of organizations working for justice for those being persecuted for practicing their right to freedom of expression.

Full rules and guidelines here.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, Press Freedom

ICFJ working to improve journalism in Latin America

Too often too many journalists see government agencies as only the enemy. A place to attack for information.

Hell, I often think that way too. Way too many bureaucrats think that because they have a top-secret clearance (or just access to info that I don’t but need for a story) they have a god-given right to NOT talk to me and not release the information. Even though that information is a.) not classified and b.) the public’s property.

But every now and then a government agency (or two) does the right thing and actually promotes freedom of the press and increased access to government information.

In this case, the US Agency for International Development and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department are promoting all these good things in other countries. It is a good and proper thing they are doing.

Working with the International Center for Journalists, these two US government offices are running a multi-year program — which means it is exempt from the current government shutdown — “to build the capacity of investigative journalists in eight target countries, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.”

  • The participating journalists will attend series of country-specific workshops on digital and mobile security and developing investigative projects beginning later this month.
  • The journalists will also engage in a  four-week online training course on developing transnational investigative reporting projects along with security protocols for editors and reporters.
  • The ICFJ will help provide online resources and access to database sets that are useful for news reports and are searchable in Spanish.
  • Reporters, editors and media owners will get training in sustainability models and strategies so that what they learned will not go to waste. The training will include how to develop a Latin American Investigative Network of journalists and news organizations.
  • Lastly, the reporters will learn new digital research tools that will help them cover specialized topics of interest.

These are excellent countries for this program.

All of the countries suffer from government institutions that are even more hesitant than their USA counterparts to share information. They are in countries where moneyed interests don’t want their secrets revealed and who are often all to ready to pay for thugs to intimidate and kill nosy journalists. They also come from places where the news organizations often spend less on quality journalism training than even the most cash-strapped USA news group.

In the specific cases of Nicaragua and Ecuador, the journalists are facing hostile governments that have a long-distance relationship with the concept of free and independent media. The other countries do not face government intimidation, rather physical dangers come from gangs and thugs.

The US agencies are providing a leg up and a helping hand to the journalists who want to do their jobs properly and who want to hold their governments and business interests accountable to the public. (I know several journalists like this in Honduras. Their biggest problems are intimidation by the gangs. Many also face lack of proper financial and training support from their publishers.)

Rather than shy away from such US government support, American journalism organizations should embrace, encourage and work with these agencies to help improve the quality of journalism in the developing world. Between the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors there are more than enough qualified journalists with the necessary journalism and language skills to help around the world.

And if the national organizations won’t step up, maybe some local chapters should.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, South America

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup


Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

March for justice in Mexico

Journalists is the Mexican state of Veracruz marched over the weekend to demand protection for journalists and for the government find and prosecute those responsible for killing investigative journalist Regina Martinez.

Government officials say they have the killer of Martinez, who was found beaten and suffocated in her house. But her co-workers don’t believe them.

The man convicted of the murder is Jorge Antonio Hernandez Silva. According to the government versions, Martinez was killed because she interrupted a robbery by  Hernandez Silva.

Unfortunately for the government, Hernandez Silva says he was forced to confess after being tortured for several days. The editors at Martinez’s publication, Proceso, don’t accept the government story, pointing out that none of the fingerprints in the Martinez apartment match Hernandez Silva.

The local authorities did not do themselves any favors when, according to Proceso, some current and former state officials issued orders to capture a reporter who questioned the verdict and “to do him harm if he resists.”

After the national government stepped in and expressed its skepticism of the local version of events, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte  met with editors of Proceso and promised a full investigation.

See original story: Mexican journalists march against attacks on press

Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. The threat comes from drug cartels and corrupted government officials. Since 1992, 28 journalists and media workers have been killed in Mexico. Of those 28 cases, 22 have not been solved.

The national government has stepped up its efforts to protect journalists and to deal with the lack of action by local governments.

Late last week the national legislature passed a bill giving the federal government jurisdiction over crimes against journalists. It only awaits the president’s signature.

Read more about the bill and the problem of impunity in Mexico: In Mexico, a movement and a bill against impunity


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Filed under Corruption, Harassment, Killings, Mexico