The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) recently released its 2016 Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free, and ranked Nigeria as the 12th worst country for such crimes.
The report highlights that the highest rates of impunity in the murder of journalists can be attributed to killings by Islamist militant groups. Published annually to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists on November 2, the index calculates the number of unsolved murders over a 10-year period as a percentage of each country’s population. Therefore, in 2016, the index analysed journalist murders which took place in every nation between September 1, 2006 and August 31, 2016. Only nations with five or more unsolved cases in this period were included in the index.
13 countries met this threshold this year including Nigeria. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained. Cases in which some but not all perpetrators are held to justice or the murder suspects are killed during apprehension are classified as partial impunity and are not included in the tally.
For the second year in a row, Somalia has ranked as the worst country due to the militant group al-Shabaab which is suspected in majority of media murders. This is followed by Iraq and Syria where members of the militant group, Islamic State, murdered at least six journalists in the past year.
Five journalists were recorded by the CPJ to have been killed with complete impunity in Nigeria in the past decade. Nigeria is stated to have failed to identify or prosecute not only the culprits in any of the murders of the past 10 years but also the perpetrators of assaults, some of which allegedly involved police and security forces.
This is the second consecutive year in which Nigeria has appeared on the index. The extremist group Boko Haram is suspected to be responsible for most of these killings and local journalists covering war, politics and human rights are believed to be targeted for murder.
Nigeria has however, for the first time, responded to the most recent request by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for the judicial status of journalist killings in the country. Despite the poor records in achieving justice, Nigeria alongside India, Mexico, and the Philippines are on the governing council of the Community of Democracies, a coalition dedicated to upholding and strengthening democratic norms.
Extremist groups have repeatedly targeted journalists with impunity in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, which all appear on the index for at least the second consecutive year. At the same time, violence perpetrated against journalists by criminal groups and local officials allowed impunity to tighten its grip in Latin America, with Mexico and Brazil each moving two spots higher on the index this year, bringing them to numbers 6 and 9 respectively. Sri Lanka, where violence against journalists has receded since the end of a decade-long civil war, dropped off the list for the first time since CPJ began calculating the index in 2008.
While militant extremists are responsible for the greatest number of attacks against journalists in recent years, they are not the only ones getting away with murder, nor are conflict zones the only place where impunity thrives. The Philippines, number 4 on the index, earned its place by a failure to prosecute perpetrators behind the 2009 massacre in Maguindanao in which 32 journalists and media workers were slain.
Aside from the Philippines, Mexico, and Brazil, criminal groups and government officials are also leading suspects in murders of journalists in Russia and India. Each of those countries except Brazil has appeared on the index since its inception.
Impunity is widely recognised as one of the greatest threats to press freedom, and international pressure to address it has mounted in recent years, with states, including some of the repeat offenders on this list, beginning to respond.
In another positive development, many countries on this year’s index participated in UNESCO’s impunity accountability mechanism, which requests information on the status of investigations into killed journalists for the U.N. agency’s biennial report on journalist safety. In previous years, half of the countries on the index ignored this process. This year, only three states among the 13 index countries – India, South Sudan, and Syria – failed to respond.