Members from around the world of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange met in Beirut last week. On the second day of our conference, amid discussions of the daily problems journalists face, we received word of the abduction and murder of Pakistani investigative journalist Saleem Shahzad. A day later, the conference buzzed with news of an arrest more than five years after the murder of iconic Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. As news unfolded in both cases, impunity–a recurring theme in official meetings and hallway conversations–loudly made its way to the forefront. And on June 2, IFEX members announced that they would join forces to globally put an end to journalists’ murders and impunity for their killers, making November 23 the International Day to End Impunity.
The creation of the day was announced during the Beirut launch of CPJ’s 2011 special report on impunity around the world, “Getting Away with Murder.” November 23 marks the single deadliest attack on journalists in history, when in 2009, 32 journalists and media workers were executed in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao while on their way to cover municipal elections. The Maguindanao massacre, as it is known, has received international attention from human rights advocates and the press. Yet, in the Philippines, the trial continues to stall with continuous motions filed against the defense and prosecution, alongside allegations of threats and bribery. In the meantime, the administration of President Benigno Aquino has again asked the Philippines for patience in the proceedings.
The International Day to End Impunity will shine a spotlight on cases like the Maguindanao massacre, where impunity must not be allowed to win out. It will allow for press freedom organizations to demand internationally that more governments strengthen their investigation and prosecution procedures to ensure that killers of journalists are not allowed to go free, silencing critics like Shahzad and Politkovskaya. The annual day will also ensure that journalists in countries where impunity is rampant feel that their work and their lives are valued.