Today marks three years since French journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were killed in Northern Mali. The perpetrators were never caught. Recognising the need to provide journalists with extra safeguards, the UN marked November 2nd as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
Impunity is a major threat to press freedom. It is therefor essential that those targeting journalists are held to account. Sadly, and despite various (international) efforts, the number of crimes committed against journalists remains high. In 2016 alone, 55 journalists were killed worldwide, while the majority of the offenders will likely never face justice.
The Committee to Protect Journalist’s ‘Global Impunity Index’, marks countries such as Somalia, Iraq, Syria, but also Afghanistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh as particularly dangerous for journalists. In these countries, armed groups including Al-Shabaab, the so-called Islamic State, the Taliban and Boko Haram are responsible for a large share of attacks that specifically target journalists.
In light of fighting terror, it is essential that governments take action to bring the perpetrators to justice, and as such live up to commitments to protect journalists within their territory. The international community can and should help, by providing resources, know-how and monitoring, and by upholding the highest levels of press freedom themselves. UNESCO has created an increasingly popular voluntary 'impunity accountability mechanism', through which states provide information on the progress in investigations of cases were journalists were killed. Fighting impunity should also push back against chilling effects on speech such as self-censorship out of fear.
Far too often, it is states themselves that commit crimes against journalists, often without any accountability. Egypt ranked 2nd on the list of jailers of journalists worldwide in 2015, after El-Sisi’s alarming crackdown on the press under the pretext of national security and countering terrorism. Easily outdoing Egypt, Turkey, in response to the failed coup attempt of July 2016, has jailed hundreds of journalists without evidence of their wrong doing, and amidst questions about upholding the right to a fair trial. Ethiopia, Iran and Saudi Arabia are also notorious for their unacceptable violent treatment of journalists in jail. Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi - jailed for sending a tweet - is due to receive new rounds of lashes after barely surviving the first.
Press freedom is one of the fundamental values the EU cherishes. This commitment must come with concrete actions. Still too often, repression and crimes against journalists are committed without consequences. Increasingly, EU leaders seek to secure short term interests, even if principles are compromised. The cooperation with repressieve regimes to 'manage migration' and 'counter terrorism' are disturbing cases in point. Advancing EU interests must go hand in hand with the protection and promotion of universal human rights. It is the right thing to do, and it is in our self-interest as well.
Faced with the disturbingly high numbers of unsolved cases of murder and violence against journalists, EU leaders should do more, and consistently denounce crimes committed against journalists, whether by legitimate governments or by armed groups.
The EEAS should actievely use the guidelines on freedom of expression online and offline, monitor trials against journalists, and follow up investigations into violence or murders. Where journalists risk being silenced through lengthy and costly trials against them, the EU should assist by funding legal defense aid through civil society.
Bringing justice to those who gave their lives holding governments to account, or highlighting corruption and injustice, is the minimal tribute we must pay to commemorate them and their courageous work.