A woman stands next to a banner reading "No more impunity" in Colombia. (AFP/Raul Arboleda)

Will UN plan address impunity, security for journalists?

By Frank Smyth/Senior Adviser for Journalist Security on November 13, 2012 1:31 PM ET

Here are the facts:

  • A journalist is killed in the line of duty somewhere around the world once every eight days.
  • Nearly three out of four are targeted for murder. The rest are killed in the crossfire of combat, or on dangerous assignments such as street protests.
  • Local journalists constitute the large majority of victims in all groups.
  • The murderers go unpunished in about nine out of 10 cases.
  • The overall number of journalists killed, and the number of journalists murdered, have each climbed since the 1990s.

UNESCO--the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization--is trying to address this global problem of anti-press violence, one that threatens everyone's right to seek and convey news and opinion. The organization has convened a series of meetings with U.N. agencies, member states, and civil society organizations to put into practice a U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Among its many security-related measures, the plan calls for strengthening the office of the U.N. special rapporteur for free expression, assisting member states in developing national laws to prosecute the killers of journalists, and establishing a U.N. inter-agency mechanism to evaluate journalist safety. The first implementation meeting took place in Paris in September 2011 and the second will occur later this month in Vienna. Its final day will coincide with the International Day to End Impunity, the third anniversary of a brutal ambush in the Philippines that claimed the lives of more than 30 journalists and media workers.

The participation of member states will be essential to the success of the effort--but gaining their cooperation is not a given. Here is one reason why:

Government officials and allied paramilitary groups are suspected of being involved in more than one-third of journalist murders worldwide since 1992, CPJ research shows. That's a higher proportion than terrorist groups or criminal gangs. It is also a fact that has so far escaped the otherwise broad discussion and working papers surrounding the U.N. effort.

Since 1992, CPJ has identified specific groups as the most likely perpetrators of journalist murder cases worldwide. CPJ has found civilian government officials as likely being responsible for 23 percent of murders; military officials for 5 percent; and allied paramilitary groups for another 7 percent. Over the same period, CPJ has found opposition political groups, including terrorist organizations, as being responsible for 30 percent of all journalist murders; and criminal groups for 13 percent. In 19 percent of cases, no likely perpetrator has been identified. Other likely perpetrators identified by CPJ include mobs inspired to violence and individual citizens retaliating for news coverage.

Of course many political groups are also interwoven with organized crime. More research needs to be done in the numerous cases that are unresolved. Nonetheless, the challenges facing the U.N. effort are clear.

When the plan of action went before UNESCO delegates in the spring for what was expected to be a routine review, several states raised objections that threatened to derail the plan. India, Brazil, and Pakistan--each with relatively high numbers of unsolved journalist murders--led the opposition. As my colleague Elisabeth Witchel reported: "In the end, the council adopted a compromise resolution that allowed the plan to move ahead. ... But UNESCO will have to present another work plan at its executive meeting in spring 2013."

That's why the cooperation of member states is so important. Brazil appeared to alter its stance after encountering domestic and international criticism from CPJ and others. Within two months, Brazil reconsidered, and in September helped sponsor a resolution on journalist safety adopted at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The struggle to curb impunity in attacks on the press is likely to be as difficult as it is important. Here is another fact to weigh in the discussion. Since the first U.N. Action Plan meeting ended in September 2011 in Paris, 67 more journalists have been killed. That's one journalist killed every six days. 

In the end, these are not just numbers. They are people like Mohamed Mohamed Turyare, an online editor in Somalia; Abdul Haq Baloch, a television reporter in Pakistan; and Abdel Karim al-Oqda, a cameraman in Syria.

UPDATED: We changed the second-to-last paragraph to correct the date of the last meeting and the number of deaths since that time. 


How're you? I am just wondering the this committee should not step forward to request the UN security council to sensitize the world about the neutrality and importance of journalists and journalism to the developments in the world. As for today right from February I am a journalist and writer that has been tortured, dehumanized, maligned right from my residence and everywhere. This also affected me at work where I have been 'verbally' threatened and have incurred physical damages from my head and all over my whole body which has deterred my capability to accrue a descent life from my career. I have been marginalized from training opportunities rendered to all journalists for which reason is peculiar. I have had to remain wriggling for my life amidst a crime that I reported to the police but the latter could not arrest the suspects citing lack of factual elements to open a criminal case against them thus leaving them at large. I have of today opened a law suit against the police for holding back the file containing the identities of the alleged which has failed me from proceeding with the courts of law, for delaying and indirectly denying me protection and justice and discrimination and watching a crime persist with consent, and inciting me to indulge in an investigation against the law for the identities of the alleged. I opened the case on 28/11/2012 at the Rwanda High Court. My head has been severely fractured, my digestive system destroyed, my heart sucked, my lymphatic system destroyed, my genitals mutilated, my limbs amputated by djinns or witchcraft by people who have premeditated to kill me off. Instead the crime has been generalized to involve different people everywhere in a way meant to delude me that it is accepted and traditional-but I don't know any crime of this nature that is traditional in a culture that have been born and brought up in. The intention is to destroy my mental and physical capabilities and in that way limit my movements to and from work and hence kill me off at home 'mudugudu or public houses'
where the whole crime is being committed by neighbors of which I don't know from before indulging my family members and inciting them to kill that I am a fool-the use the term Jesus, because he was born of the spirit-that cannot be indulged in unprotected sex which would, if a was charmed to intercourse, be excuse to bewitch like an HIV/AIDS infected or even infect me so that my killing of would be or appear like my own mistake-have me kill my self. I fled to Uganda on 9 July 2010 from this persecution but after being interrogated at the Kampala, Uganda, Immigration office was arrested at the Central Police Station for two days and deported on September 8 in the middle of the night by an ISO agent called Carlgun and I caught a glimpse of the deportation letter rather confirming to the criminals lies that 'I had cited unreasonable excuses for requesting another two months and a half to wait for some money from my brother so that I prepare to either transact or travel'-the ISO that interrogated me insisted that I tell them my tribe than the truth that I am a Rwandan but of course of the Tutsi tribe. While being deported Carlgun called some one on phone as we were leaving Kabale and almost Katuna boarder saying that he was with somebody and saw going to destroy someone!Since being deported have been crippled with the criminals openly saying that I sit down and while working with The New Times I was always asked to leave their sit and was marginalized from my right salary, was paid below the janitors. Today my life is being killed off as the criminals continue to whim and incite me to commit a crime that would rather save them from prosecution and instead have me incriminated and may arrested for life!I have seen some people that indulge with the criminals be bribed in an indirect way. I find my life in danger even with a silent media about it, the Uganda new vision and the monitor could not print the article citing bleach of media relations with TNT and the country. My life is in danger for which reason is not refusal to forced sex but for some other reasons that I don't know but can suspect a number of them. I reported to the UN but I have not received any formal response since late 2010 and the American Embassy in Rwanda and Uganda have my report.I would, therefore, this context request the CPJ to step forward and stand for one of their own before he is killed off.
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