The focus on impunity of the resolution A/RES/68/163 stems from the worrying situation that over the past decade, more than 700 journalists have been killed for bringing news and information to the public. In 2012 alone, the UNESCO Director-General condemned the killing of 123 journalists, media workers, and social media producers of public interest journalism. In 2013, the figure decreased slightly to 91, but still represented the second deadliest year for journalists.
These figures do not include the many more journalists who on a daily basis suffer from non-fatal attacks, including torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Furthermore, there are specific risks faced by women journalists including sexual attacks.
Worryingly, only one in ten cases committed against media workers over the past decade has led to a conviction. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society including journalists themselves. Impunity breeds impunity and feeds into a vicious cycle.
According to the forthcoming UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, less than six percent of the 593 cases of killings of journalists from 2006-2013 have been resolved. A quarter of these cases are considered as “ongoing” referring to their continued investigations over the various stages of the judicial system. In 60 percent of the cases, no information on the judicial process was made available to UNESCO notwithstanding the Director-General’s requests for such.
When attacks on journalists remain unpunished, a very negative message is sent that reporting the “embarrassing truth” or “unwanted opinions” will get ordinary people in trouble. Furthermore, society loses confidence in its own judiciary system which is meant to protect everyone from attacks on their rights. Perpetrators of crimes against journalists are thus emboldened when they realize they can attack their targets without ever facing justice.