International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists: The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom calls for creation of international investigative task force

Tuesday 2 November 2021

From left to right: Professor Can Yeginsu, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Nadim Houry

To mark the 8th International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists on 2 November 2021, the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom calls on all states, including members of the Media Freedom Coalition, and the international community to strengthen efforts in holding perpetrators of crimes against journalists accountable and for the establishment of an international investigative task force.

The People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists is a civil society-led initiative established to seek justice for murdered journalists across the globe. As part of the project A Safer World for the Truth’, a coalition of press freedom organisations including Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders requested the Permanent People’s Tribunal in Rome to investigate and pronounce a judgment on impunity for murders of journalists.

The Tribunal consists of five hearings, starting with the opening hearing which took place today in The Hague, The Netherlands. Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, member of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, delivered the Keynote address at the opening hearing whilst Panel Member, Nadim Houry provided expert witness testimony on the recommendations in the Panel’s report ‘Advice on Promoting More Effective Investigations into Abuses Against Journalists’ (released in November 2020), which focuses specifically on developing recommendations to strengthen international efforts to promote more effective investigations into attacks on journalists and tackle persistent impunity.

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly at its 68th session in 2013 via resolution 68/163 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. This landmark resolution calls on states to adopt concrete measures targeting impunity, hold perpetrators accountable and create a safe and enabling environment for journalists to conduct their professional activities independently and free from undue interference.

Targeted attacks against journalists are a historical and pervasive issue which has stimulated a hostile environment for media freedom. Between 2006 – 2020, more than 1,200 journalists were killed – 86 per cent of killings of journalists go unpunished. They are not successfully investigated or prosecuted. This rampant impunity is not limited to countries experiencing armed conflict or general collapse of the rule of law. Since 2017, most killings of journalists occur outside war zones.

Despite multiple and important initiatives at the international, regional and nation level, the situation continues to deteriorate. While these efforts have raised the profile of the issue and improved global understanding of the problem, they remain insufficient, as evidenced by the continuing increase of attacks against journalists, and the fact that the majority of investigations into such attacks remain inconclusive. Authored by High Level Panel Member, Nadim Houry, the High Level Panel’s report concludes with three major recommendations to the signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, and other key governments, to strengthen investigations into attacks on journalists, address the issue of impunity and progress towards accountability, including the creation of a standing international Investigative Task Force.

Professor Can Yeginsu, Barrister and Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom stated: ‘Impunity for crimes against journalists has dangerous and long-standing consequences beyond the lack of justice for victims and their families. A culture of impunity encourages more crimes against journalists, threatens journalistic communities and restricts media freedoms. The High Level Panel has advised States to investigate killings, the failure of which violates an array of human rights protected under international law, including the right to life. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has reiterated that the right to life as protected by international law has a procedural component requiring states to investigate and hold perpetrators accountable where there has been an arbitrary deprivation of life. This link is also recognised in the Minnesota Protocol on the Investigation of Potentially Unlawful Death. In combating impunity, states must gather to strengthen prosecutorial services and effective investigations against all alleged threats and killings against journalists’.

Nadim Houry, Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, Human Rights Lawyer and Member of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom stated: 'On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the international community must act to address the increasingly widespread and varied nature of attacks against journalists. As illustrated in the High Level Panel's report ‘Advice on Promoting More Effective Investigations into Abuses Against Journalists we are seeing a disturbing surge in attacks offline and online, with a culture of impunity only growing stronger with ineffective or inexistent investigations into crimes committed against journalists. To combat these challenges, States should establish an international Investigative Task Force, strengthen evidence-gathering efforts by NGO’s and raise the political cost for perpetrators of attacks by strengthening the UN’s response.'

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and Member of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom remarked: ‘The international community must seize every opportunity to confront governments to hold perpetrators of crimes against journalists accountable and conduct effective investigations into all cases. Perpetrators of these crimes cannot be shielded from justice any longer at the expense of the lives of journalists and media freedoms at large, which is why the work of the People’s Tribunal on the Murder of Journalists is so critical at the point in time’.


Notes to the Editor

  1. The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom is an independent body that was convened in July 2019 at the request of the UK and Canadian governments. The High Level Panel comprises a diverse group of leading lawyers from around the world. The remit of the High Level Panel is to provide advice and recommendations to governments to prevent and reverse abuses of media freedom. The High Level Panel will propose initiatives that can be taken by governments to ensure existing international obligations relating to media freedom are upheld, disseminate elements for model legislation to promote and protect a vibrant free press, and report on means of raising the cost to those who target journalists for their work. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute acts as Secretariat to the High Level Panel.
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