Honoring Slain Media Workers, UN Calls for End to 'Cycle of Impunity'

Photojournalists assemble in Cairo calling for the release of an Egyptian photographer who has been imprisoned without trial for more than 600 days. (Photo: Reuters)

Honoring Slain Media Workers, UN Calls for End to 'Cycle of Impunity'

Press freedom groups caution that progress is still moving slowly in countries high on the global impunity index

Safeguards for media workers must be strengthened to protect not only their work, but their lives, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

More than 700 reporters and other media workers have been killed in the past decade "simply for bringing news and information to the public," Ban said on Monday. But the risks they face go far beyond war zones--and are just as often homegrown.

"Many perish in the conflicts they cover so fearlessly. But all too many have been deliberately silenced for trying to report the truth," Ban said. He called for collective action to "end the cycle of impunity and safeguard the right of journalists to speak truth to power."

Only 7 percent of crimes against journalists are ever solved, and less than one in 10 is ever fully investigated--sowing fear among media workers and fueling global governments' powers of censorship, the UN noted in its statement honoring those killed in the line of duty.

"The near complete impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against journalists goes against everything that we stand for, our shared values, our common objectives," said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.

Ban continued, "We must do more to combat this trend and make sure that journalists can report freely. Journalists should not have to engage in self-censorship because they fear for their life."

The UN's periodic call for stronger protections for media workers has prompted little progress in countries where killings and censorship are an epidemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported last October.

"There are more steps governments can take, including moving trial venues, improving witness protection, reforming judiciaries, and creating independent bodies to scrutinize flawed investigations," the committee concluded in its 2014 report, The Road to Justice: Breaking the Cycle of Impunity in the Killing of Journalists. "Some solutions require extensive resources, but others do not. Meeting U.N. obligations to combat impunity must be paramount."

CPJ last month released its 2015 "global impunity index" spotlighting countries where killers of journalists escape prosecution. For the first time since the organization began compiling its list in 2008, Iraq slipped out of the number one spot, which was taken by Somalia. The index expanded to 14 this year as CPJ analyzed nations with five or more unsolved cases in the past 10 years.

Bokova said Monday that the UN's plan of action to safeguard journalists' rights, endorsed in April 2012, was "bearing fruit," with a growing number of member states taking up new laws and judiciary measures to tackle the crisis of impunity. But those efforts "must be redoubled," she added, "especially since societies are undergoing transformation."

Just last week, Mexico unveiled an altar to honor journalists killed over the last decade. At least 32 media workers have been killed there since 1992, making it one of the deadliest countries for reporters.

On Friday, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) headed off the UN's day of awareness by calling on the body to create a Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for the Safety of Journalists position--the most effective move to propel concrete action, RSF said.

"These legal advances have not been translated into action if we are to judge by the number of journalists killed each year," said RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire. "Only a Special Representative working closely with the UN Secretary General will have the political weight, the capacity to act quickly, and the legitimacy to coordinate with all UN bodies to implement change."

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