“Freedom of expression is an essential human right. And yet, the frequency of grave violations committed against journalists coupled with prevailing high levels of impunity is alarming. It is time that states are held accountable,” Almudena Bernabeu, Lead Prosecutor of the People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists.
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists, spearheaded by the Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), will officially commence today (2 November), marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.
The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013. This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It calls upon States to promote a safe environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.
The main event of the 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists will be held on 3 November at the Syracuse International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in Syracuse, Italy. It is decided to be a hybrid format high-level roundtable discussion, organized by Ossigeno per l’informazione, an observatory jointly promoted by the Italian National Press Federation (FNSI) and the Order of Journalists (OdG), and supported by UNESCO.
The event aims at highlighting the significant role of prosecutorial services in investigating and prosecuting not only killings but also threats of violence against journalists. A platform for dialogue among prosecutors and journalists, on prevention and protection measures to address the safety of journalists, is the motive of the event.
The People’s Tribunal for Murdered Journalists, on the other hand, will span over a six-month time frame, where three country-specific case hearings will follow the opening hearing which will call on thirteen witnesses to deliver testimonies on the patterns of violence, the causes of impunity, and the responsibility of states. The Lead Prosecutor, Almudena Bernabeu, will formally deliver the indictment to the panel of judges. The closing hearing will be witnessed on May 3rd, World Press Freedom Day, 2022.
The Tribunal consists of five hearings and will indict the governments of Sri Lanka, Mexico and Syria in three separate case hearings for failing to deliver justice for the murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Miguel Ángel López Velasco, and Nabil Al-Sharbaji.
Each of these three cases shows a wide pattern of, first violence against journalists, and then continued impunity in delivering justice. The tribunal will document these cases and will scrutinize them critically to illustrate how the states fail to honour their obligations under international human rights law as well as the impact of impunity on victims, journalistic communities, and societies.
Frequent reports of journalists being harassed by mobs, beaten up and thrashed by police and silenced by powerful people, have become a new normal for us. The pegasus case, for example, is a whole new disgusting level of a breach of privacy that cannot be emphasized enough.
More than 40 journalists from India alone had to face this harassment. Many others continue to languish in jails charged under various draconian laws for their critical reporting of those with power. According to CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) data, in only the past six months, at least 13 proficient journalists were killed around the globe and most of the culprits involved in these killings are still at large.
More than 12,000 journalists have been assassinated between 2006 and 2020 for doing their job, and one journalist has been murdered every four days in the past ten years. UNESCO observatory for killed journalists says that the killers walk free in 9 out of 10 cases.
On 7th August 2021, journalists in Delhi had to get together to demand a probe into the oppression faced by them. A meeting called “Save Journalism Day’ was called by the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) at the Press Club of India. Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde, in the meeting, said that India was now becoming one of the most unsafe countries for journalists. He said, “oppression, intimidation and surveillance can be met with unmatched defiance and awareness.” Adding, he says, “This is the stage we are at after 75 years of Independence. The modus operandi of the government has assumed a certain gradation — if you can’t shut down people with defamation, then shut them down with sedition.”
The UN General Assembly, through this resolution, is urging the Member States to implement palpable measures to counter the culture of impunity when it comes to the oppression of journalists.
It also urges the Member States to:
- Put an end to the ever prevalent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability
- Bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers
- Ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.