Unpunished crimes against journalists: a strategy for reducing impunity
World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2003Paris – Haiti’s most popular radio commentator, Jean Leopold Dominique, was shot dead on April 3, 2000, as he arrived to work at his radio station. His killers remain free. Similarly, the murderers of Georgiy Gongadze, the editor in chief of the Ukrainian news website, pravda.com.ua, who was found decapitated on November 2, 2000, are still at large. Impunity is enjoyed by the slayers of many journalists around the world.
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day celebrated around the world on May 3, UNESCO is organizing an international conference of media professionals and organizations whose main theme will be the impunity for crimes against journalists. The conference – taking place in Kingston, Jamaica - will seek to define strategies to reduce this problem. On May 2, UNESCO Director-General Koīchiro Matsuura will award this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Israeli journalist Amira Hass.
In his message for World Press Freedom Day, Mr Matsuura argues that “whenever one journalist is exposed to violence, intimidation or arbitrary detention because of his or her commitment to conveying the truth, all citizens are deprived of the right to express themselves and act according to their conscience.” *
In 2002 alone, 20 journalists were killed, “targeted in direct reprisal for their work”, according to the nongovernmental organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)1 in what the Inter American Press Association (IAPA)2 calls the “most archaic and brutal” form of repression against press freedom. “At year’s end, most of the killers of these 20 cases had not been brought to justice – a record of impunity that threatens press freedom worldwide,” according to the introduction to the CPJ’s report on attacks on the media.
The CPJ notes that 366 journalists have been killed while carrying out their work over the past decade. According to its statistics, 60 journalists (16 percent) died in cross fire, while 277 (76 percent) were murdered. The remaining journalists were killed in conflict situations that cannot be described as combat - while covering street demonstrations, for example.
Since 1993, CPJ has recorded only 21 cases in which those who ordered a journalist's murder have been arrested and prosecuted. This means that impunity prevailed in 94 percent of cases.
The problem of impunity also concerns the killing of war reporters. In many cases they were shot although they were wearing vests identifying them as members of the press. These killings have given rise to little legal action against their perpetrators.
Nine journalists were killed in Afghanistan in 2002, and at least nine died in the war in Iraq this year, leading the Director-General of UNESCO to issue repeated calls on the belligerents to respect international agreements and treat journalists as civilians. “On no account must journalists be targeted,” he said, recalling Article 79 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions which states that, “Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians.”
“In times of war and violent conflict, the dangers facing journalists are greater than usual but these are precisely the circumstances when independent, accurate and professional reporting is at a premium,” Mr Matsuura states in his message. Professional organizations are calling for full investigations of the killing of journalists in conflict areas.
The problem of impunity on crimes against reporters gave rise to a UNESCO resolution, adopted by the Organization’s Member States on November 12, 1997. It calls on States to remove any statute of limitations on crimes against persons when such crimes are “perpetrated to prevent the exercise of freedom of information and expression or when their purpose is the obstruction of justice” and urges governments to “refine legislation to make it possible to prosecute and sentence those who instigate the assassination of persons exercising the right to freedom of expression.” It also requests legal provisions to ensure that “persons responsible for offences against journalists exercising their professional duties and the media [to] be judged before civil and/or ordinary courts.”
The Director-General echoes these principles in his message: “The debt we collectively incur when journalists suffer on our behalf must be repaid in practical ways. At the very least, we must declare war on impunity. I therefore appeal to all governments, at all levels, to fulfil their responsibility to ensure that crimes against journalists do not go unpunished. It is essential that all violations are investigated thoroughly, that all perpetrators are prosecuted, and that all judicial systems and processes are capable of punishing those found guilty. These requirements are vital for correcting human rights abuses. Putting an end to impunity fulfils our need for justice; in addition, it will do much to prevent abuses occurring in the first place.”
Since the adoption of UNESCO’s resolution some progress has been recorded. The Damocles Network3 of lawyers, judges, journalists, human rights activists and experts in international criminal law, set up with the NGO Reporters Without Borders notes some “progress in dealing with a legacy of violence against journalists in Chile, Afghanistan and Timor Leste.”
Damocles welcomes signs of progress in some countries but, despite these improvements, has maintained a “Black List” of countries where “murderers, abductors and torturers of journalists are enjoying impunity”.
World Press Freedom Day will be celebrated by UNESCO in Kingston, Jamaica, with an international conference - “Freedom of Expression: Early New Millennium Challenges”. It will feature a session on “Unpunished Crimes against Journalists: A Strategy for Reducing Impunity” (May 2 and 3) bringing together media professionals and representatives of professional organizations who will present case studies from Brazil, Iran, Nepal, Rwanda and the Carribbean.
“Safety of Journalists” will also be discussed during the conference, which will feature case studies from Afghanistan, the Basque Country (Spain), the Caribbean, Israel, Colombia and Zimbabwe.
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in Jamaica, Israeli journalist Amira Hass, the first and only Israeli journalist living in the Palestinian Territories, will be awarded the 2003 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize (May 2, 6 p.m.). Ms Hass has been filing compassionate reports about the daily lives and hardships of the Palestinians for the Ha’aretz newspaper, despite restrictions from both Israeli military authorities and Palestinian authorities. Her independent and critical reporting on the policies of both Israelis and Palestinians has exposed her to pressure from both sides.
“Amira Hass has been showing outstanding professional commitment and independence, as well as personal courage, over the past decade. If peace is to be established between Israelis and Palestinians it will be thanks to people like Ms Hass who are able to look at the facts and understand them”, Mr Matsuura said of the laureate.
The Prize was established by UNESCO and the Guillermo Cano Foundation. Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano was assassinated in 1997 and his killers remain unpunished.
Previous winners of the World Press Freedom Prize are: Geoffrey Nyarota (Zimbabwe), 2002; imprisoned journalist U Win Tin (Myanmar), 2001; Nizar Nayyouf (Syria), 2000; Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), 1999; Christina Anyanwu (Nigeria), 1998; and Gao Yu (China), 1997.
* For information about UNESCO and World Freedom Day, including the full text of the message, see link to 3 May on: www.unesco.org/webworld
2. IAPA has long been an active campaigner for an end to the impunity of crimes against journalists in a region particularly affected by this problem. For more information see: www.impunidad.com/
3. See Damocles Network in www.rsf.org
World Press Freedom Day 2003 Celebrated in Jamaica
“Unpunished Crimes against Journalists: A Strategy for Reducing Impunity” will be the main theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day (May 3) celebrations, held in Kingston, Jamaica. On this occasion, UNESCO is organizing a 2-day International Conference entitled “Freedom of Expression: Early New Millennium Challenges”. Also in Kingston, it will award the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Israeli Journalist Amira Hass on May 2.
The conference, at the Jamaica International Conference Centre, will bring together some 150 media professionals and representatives of professional nongovernmental organizations, as well as government ministers. Debates will focus on the subject of impunity, on safety of journalists, and, on freedom of expression and the new communication and information technologies for the information society.
Jamaica’s Minister of Education, Youth and Culture, Maxine Henry-Wilson, who also chairs the country’s National Commission for UNESCO, will deliver welcoming remarks at the start of the conference (9 a.m., May 2). The Director-General of UNESCO, Koīchiro Matsuura, will then give a keynote address. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, Percival J. Patterson, will deliver the official opening address, to be followed by James Ottaway Jr., Chairperson of the World Press Freedom Committee.
A multimedia exhibition by national and international organizations and institutions, will be opened on May 2 (10 a.m.), ahead of the first plenary session, entitled, “Multimedia solutions to challenges in Freedom of Expression”. This session will focus on the problem of “Unpunished Crimes against Journalists: A Strategy for Reducing Impunity”. A global overview of will be provided by Joel Simon, Acting Director of the international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists which has identified 20 cases of journalists murdered in direct retaliation to their professional work in the course of 2002. The international situation in this area will be addressed by Julio Muņoz, Executive Director of the Inter American Press Association; and Pierre Lemoine, of the NGO Reporters without Borders. Speakers will present case studies on the situation in Brazil, Iran, Nepal, Rwanda, and the Caribbean.
The Second Plenary Session will examine the “Safety of Journalists” and will feature case studies on Afghanistan, presented by Abdul Hameed Mubaraz, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture of Afghanistan; the Basque Country (Spain) by Carmen Gurruchaga Basurto of Antena 3, Madrid; the Caribbean by Debbie Ransome, of the BBC World Service; Israel, by Amira Hass of Ha’aretz newspaper; Colombia, by Marta Ruiz, of the Proyecto Antonio Nariņo for the defence of press freedom and human rights; and Zimbabwe by Reyhana Masters-Smith, Chairperson of the Media Institute of Southern Africa.
The official award ceremony of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize will take place between 6 and 8 p.m. on May 2 at King’s House with the participation of the laureate, Amira Hass; of the Governor General of Jamaica, Sir Howard Cooke; the Director-General of UNESCO, Koīchiro Matsuura; Oliver J. Clarke, President of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize jury and Managing Director of the Jamaican publishing group Gleaner Ltd.; and Ana Maria Busquets de Cano, President of the Cano Foundation. The ceremony will be broadcast live by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) with satellite link provided by the Caribbean Media Corporation.
On May 3, a plenary session (9h00-10h45) will be devoted to “Freedom of Expression in Knowledge Societies: Opportunities” with presentations on the development of participative democracy and world civil society by Mihir Kshirsagar, coordinator of the advocacy coalition Public Voice Coalition, and member of the Washington Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC); new opportunities for new journalism by Hopeton Dunn of the Caribbean Institute for Media and Communication (CARIMAC); legal, economic and policy challenges to creating knowledge societies in the Caribbean, by Bernice Lake, attorney-at-law and Eastern Caribbean Press Council advocate; and the training of journalists by Patrick Butler, of the Washington-based International Center for Journalists.
The following plenary session, 11.15 a.m., will focus on “Obstacles to the full enjoyment of Freedom of Expression in the Information Society”, moderated by Ambeyi Ligabo, UN Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. It will include presentations by Toby Mendel, Law and Asia Programme Director of the nongovernmental freedom of expression organization Article 19 on access to means of communication; Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, World Association of Newspapers, on economical pressures; and Claude Robinson, Research and Policy group, Mona School of Business, University of the West Indies, on the technological challenges facing traditional media systems in the Caribbean.
The session starting at 2.30 p.m., “Freedom of expression, ICT’s and Development: What Relationship”, moderated by Eduardo Bertoni, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Organization of American States, will feature the following presentations: Economic development and press freedom, by Daniel Kaufmann, Director for Global Governance and for Latin America Capacity Building (LCR) at the World Bank Institute (WBI); A case study: the development of community media centres, by T.R Gopalkrishnan, Lecturer, University of Madras; free community media voices and ICTs for human advancement, by Karin Delgadillo, Executive Director of ChasquiNet, Ecuador; Journalism, new media and HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean, by Jones P. Madeira, Information Adviser, Caribbean Epidemiological Council.
At 4.30 p.m. Oliver Clarke, President of the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Prize Jury, will chair the final session and closing remarks will be provided by Jamaican Minister of Information Senator Burchell Whiteman, and by Abdul Waheed Khan, UNESCO Assistant-Director General for Communication and Information.
For information about broadcasting possibilities, contact Garcia Thornhill, Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) Earth Station +1-246-467-1028 / +1-246-228-7757 / +1-246-230-0347
Press accreditation and information in Jamaica:
Rosalee Fraser, Jamaica Information Service, tel: (876) 926-8428 or 926-3590-5 ext.
2007/8, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Also on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, on May 2, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and a coalition of media organisations, unions of journalists and press freedom groups will launch the International News Safety Institute (INSI) – a global campaign to create a culture of safety within the media industry.