Impunity for Killings of Journalists Remains Extremely High, says UNESCO DG

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO

The Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Ms Audrey Azoulay, has said that “impunity for killings of journalists has slightly decreased, but remains extremely high.” She disclosed this in her 2018 report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, which she submitted to the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

The report provides an analysis of the instances of killings of journalists and associated media personnel that were condemned by the UNESCO DG in 2016 and 2017. It also takes stock of the status of judicial enquiries conducted on each of the killings recorded by UNESCO between 2006 and 2017, based on information provided by its Member States.

The report provides data collected and analysed by UNESCO on killings of journalists that took place from January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2017. It also analyzes the status of judicial enquiries of the killings recorded by UNESCO since 2006, based on information made available to it by UNESCO Member States.

The UNESCO report documents 182 journalists killed in 2016 and 2017 and shows a slight decrease in the number of fatalities compared to the previous two-year period which however, when compared to earlier periods, such as 2007 to 2011, is considered high.

The report shows that while in 2016, the largest number of killings occurred in the Arab States (31%), in 2017, the highest number of killing of journalists took place in the Asia and the Pacific region (34% of all killings). There was also a rise in the percentage of women journalists among those who were killed in 2017 marking the continuation of a trend that has become apparent over the last years. Though the proportion of women among journalists killed has risen, the majority of the journalists killed are men.

It also showed an increase in the number of journalists killed outside of armed conflict zones, with a majority of journalists (55%) in 2017 killed in countries not experiencing armed conflict. Many of these journalists killed in countries not experiencing armed conflict were reporting on issues related to corruption, trafficking, and political maleficence. A trend that has emerged from observations of previous years shows that local journalists remain the vast majority of victims.

The report also shows that though a slightly higher proportion of cases were reported to have been resolved (11% of cases, compared to 8% of cases in 2016), “legal impunity for perpetrators is still the norm for most killings of journalists.”
There was also a noticeable regression in the response rate of Member States to the Director-General’s request for information on the judicial follow-up to killings of journalists, a situation UNESCO says “is a worrisome development.” Though Member States’ response rate dropped by 10 percentage points (from 74% in 2017 to 64% in 2018), 15 Member States nevertheless followed the Director-General’s invitation to provide information on positive measures taken to address the safety of journalists and impunity.

UNESCO continues to play a leading role in coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity which was endorsed in 2012 by the UN Chief Executives Board. The Plan is designed as a multi-stakeholder effort to coordinate responses aimed at the prevention of, protection against, and prosecution for attacks against journalists.

Its implementing actors include UN agencies, national governmental authorities, regional organizations, human rights bodies, UN country teams, media actors, national and international NGOs, and academia. The implementation of the Plan revolves around six main pillars: standard setting and policy making, awareness-raising, monitoring and reporting, capacity building, academic research and coalition building.

The 2018 report was compiled and submitted in line with the Decision on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of Impunity adopted by the Council at its 26th session on 27 March 2008, and renewed at subsequent sessions in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.