In 1950, the United Nations General Assembly declared December 10 Human Rights Day in commemoration of the adoption and proclamation two years earlier of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every year, on this day, the U.N. chooses one right to highlight and advocate. This year, Human Rights Day is focused on the right of all people to make their voices heard. This is not possible when journalists worldwide are being murdered.
When a journalist is murdered, he is denied his most fundamental right to life. He is also denied his right to freedom of expression. When a journalist is murdered, his stories are censored, and we are all denied our collective right to information. Without this right, we become uninformed and powerless–we cannot make our voices heard.
The U.N. cites the ability of “women, youth, minorities, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, the poor and marginalized” to be heard. These are effectively the people most regularly affected by journalist murders. In nine of 10 cases, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists, those murdered are local journalists working on local stories that often touch on the concerns of minorities, indigenous peoples, women, and the poor.
But around the world journalists are also being targeted for their reports on human rights. Coverage of this topic is one of the top five reasons why journalists are routinely killed. In 2012, one third of journalists murdered covered human rights. Among them was 27-year-old Syrian cameraman and reporter Abdel Karim al-Oqda, who was killed on September 19 when security forces launched an assault on his home in the central city of Hama, burning his house and killing three of his friends. Al-Oqda reported for the Damascus-based citizen news organization Shaam News Network. He covered fighting between regime forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army, focusing on civilian deaths. His footage appeared on international outlets including Al-Jazeera, the BBC, and CNN. Without his work, some of the atrocities happening now in Syria would have gone unreported.
Last week, CPJ launched a new digital campaign Speak Justice: Voices Against Impunity, to demand justice for journalists like al-Oqda, and to empower reporting on issues of vital importance, such as human rights. You can visit the Speak Justice website and explore our interactive maps to see where journalists have been targeted for their reports on human rights. You can also choose today, Human Rights Day, to lend your voice to those who have been silenced by becoming a Speak Justice advocate.