Human Rights House Foundation

United Kingdom

Image: Impunity, 23 faces 
Copyright: Index on Censorship

To fight impunity, silence must be broken and accountability demanded

The International Day to End Impunity, launched on 23 November 2011, marks the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, when 32 journalists and media workers were murdered. To this day, not a single suspect has been convicted. More than 630 other journalists have been targeted and murdered worldwide in direct retaliation for their reporting since 1992.

Sunday, 25 November 2012, by HRH London, based on Article 19, Index on Censorship, IFEX and Committee to Protect Journalists information.

On November 23, 2009, 30 journalists and two media workers were brutally killed in the southern Philippine city of Maguindanao while travelling in a convoy with the family and supporters of a local politician.

To this day, not a single suspect has been convicted, though local authorities have identified close to 200. The botched trial has been stalled with procedural hurdles. Victims' families have been threatened and key witnesses have been slain.

More than 630 other journalists have been targeted and murdered worldwide in direct retaliation for their reporting since 1992, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research shows.

Like those killed in Maguindanao, a vast majority were local reporters covering issues of vital importance to their communities: corruption, politics, crime, conflict and human rights. At least four in 10 were threatened before they were killed. One in 10 was tortured.

Aim – to achieve justice for persecuted

The goal of the International Day to End Impunity is to achieve justice for those persecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression by drawing global attention to the issue of impunity. The Day not only raises public awareness about what creates and sustains a culture of impunity, but it also prompts concerned citizens world-wide to take action, make their voices heard and demand justice.

CPJ warns that journalists working in countries where their colleagues have been murdered with impunity tend to self-censor. They avoid dangerous beats, and ignore risky stories. Developments corruption, politics, crime, conflict, and human rights go unreported. People living in their cities and countries go uninformed, and are unable to hold power accountable. They are collectively stripped of their basic right to information.

Annie Game, the Executive Director of the global free expression network IFEX, which coordinates the International Day to End Impunity, says impunity means it is all right to take the voice away from those who speak in the public interest or those with whom you don't agree or those who tell the stories others might not like to hear. It is fine to scare them, threaten their families, intimidate and hurt them to keep them silent.

Day agaist impunity for all, not for just a few

Jineth Bedoya Lima is a journalist with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. On 25 May 2000, while she was working on an investigation for the newspaper El Espectador, a paramilitary leader asked her to meet him at a prison for an interview. But the appointment was a trap. She was kidnapped, tortured and raped, then abandoned.

She says that only when we put ourselves in the shoes of the victims can we convey in our writing and our images the full dimensions of this human tragedy.

„Only when we have felt in our own skin, our own bodies, our own souls, the lacerations of war and conflict, and when we are on the verge of being forgotten, can we understand the full meaning of the word impunity”, Jineth Bedoya Lima says.

According to her, 23 November should not be a day against impunity for just a few.

"The world needs to understand that it's a day against impunity for all, because for every journalist that is silenced there is another person, another community, who has no opportunity to make their situation known", Jineth Bedoya Lima continues.

The global network for free expression IFEX has initiated the campaign 23 actions in 23 days, which aims to publicise specific cases of impunity and to demand accountability through calls to action. The campaign to highlight this issue has chosen 23 figures from around the world who have faced intimidation, imprisonment and attacks.

"Finding 23 individuals who have been threatened or jailed or have had their work censored wasn't a difficult task. In 2011 we found 23 who had been murdered with impunity in the month of November. [...] People featured in our campaign believe that having their story told to an international audience will make a difference in their case, and will help others as well. They agreed to be part of the 23 in 23 for this reason", IFEX reveals.

These stories tell us of people whose right to free expression is being violated and who are forced to live in fear, in jail or in exile every day. Every year, new cases will undoubtedly arise.

Statement signed by 22 organisations
The efforts of the international non-governmental organisations and their campaigns give the results. The sign of a possible change is a draft UN Resolution on the Safety of Journalists tabled on behalf of Austria, Brazil, Morocco, Switzerland and Tunisia in September 2012.

The participants of the meeting of the civil society delegates of the 2nd UN Inter-Agency meeting on the safety of journalists and the issues of impunity, that took place on 21 November 2012, have signed a statement. It welcomes and endorses the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and hopes that the UN and the member states will implement it.

In particular, the statement welcomes the emphasis on the preventative and protective safety measures outlined in the Plan of Action as a starting point to guarantee safety of journalists.

You can find the full text of the statement here. The statement was undersigned by 22 organisations all around the world, including ARTICLE 19 and Index on Censorship.

Find more cases of impunity in the Index on Censorship article.

HRH London, based on Article 19, Index on Censorship, IFEX and Committee to Protect Journalists information.

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