Bangkok, November 20, 2014--A state witness in the mass killing of 57 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in the Philippines in 2009 was shot dead by assailants on Tuesday while traveling in a remote area of southern Maguindanao province, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the killing and calls upon Philippine authorities to identify, apprehend, and prosecute the attackers.
The lack of justice in hundreds of murders of journalists around the world is one of the greatest threats to press freedom today. While international attention to the issue has grown over the past decade, there has been little progress in bringing down rates of impunity. States will have to demonstrate far more political will to implement international commitments to make an impact on the high rates of targeted violence that journalists routinely face. A special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists
Elisabeth Witchel, the founder of CPJ’s Global Campaign Against Impunity, is the lead author of this report. Witchel launched the campaign in 2007 and has compiled five editions of the organization’s annual Global Impunity Index as well as several other major reports. She has worked in human rights and journalism for more than 15 years and participated in missions to Pakistan, Nepal, and the Philippines, among others. In 2010, she organized CPJ’s Impunity Summit, bringing together 40 representatives from more than 20 press freedom organizations to identify challenges and strategies to combat impunity in violence against journalists.
In 1981, the year CPJ was founded, Argentina was enmeshed in the so-called Dirty War, in which dozens of journalists were disappeared. Most were never seen again. To this day, no one has systematically documented the media murders that took place, and no one knows precisely how many journalists perished. Not surprisingly, given the information void, there was little international attention on journalists’ disappearances or the broader human rights catastrophe that many of the murdered reporters were seeking to cover.
In November 2013, the United Nations General Assembly put the issue of impunity squarely on the global agenda.
The Resolution on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, adopted by consensus, describes the absence of justice for victims as “one of the main challenges to strengthening the protection of journalists.” It calls on states to “ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy, and effective investigations into all alleged violence against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction.” Governments are further charged to “bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice and to ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.” The resolution proclaims November 2 as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
A climate of impunity reached a tragic culmination on November 23, 2009, when gunmen ambushed a caravan escorting political candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu as he prepared to file papers to become a candidate for provincial governor in the Philippines. The attackers slaughtered 58 people, among them 30 journalists and two media workers, the largest toll of journalists murdered in a single act since CPJ began keeping track in 1992.
On May 3, 2011, CPJ representatives traveled to Pakistan to raise concerns about the increasing attacks against journalists there and the country’s high rate of impunity. It was a moment of drama: The previous day, American forces had killed Osama bin Laden in nearby Abbottabad. But Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari kept his commitment and met CPJ to discuss the growing number of Pakistani journalists murdered because of their work, and the absence of prosecution against the assailants.
The United Nations has escalated its focus on journalist killings, declaring that unpunished attacks against journalists are a major threat not only to press freedom, but also to all major areas of the U.N.’s work. In recent years, it has adopted two resolutions addressing journalists’ safety and impunity and launched a plan of action. These have come on top of existing Security Council Resolution 1738, which condemns attacks against journalists in conflict. “There must be no impunity for those who target journalists for violence,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon proclaimed in a statement in the run-up to World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2014.
Today the fight against impunity has reached an important juncture. There is awareness on domestic and global levels of the extreme peril posed to journalists and the public’s right to information when violence against the press is met with official inaction. The cries for justice by freedom of expression advocates have been amplified by the U.N.’s endorsement and its designation of the first International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
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