Impunity: without punishment, without consequences. Impunity doesn't often work its way into everyday conversation. It might turn up in vague reference to some event or in a crossword puzzle, but it isn't part of most people's lexicon as a word or a concept.
In IFEX, however, impunity looms large. It is the word that describes one of the most pressing issues facing IFEX members. It describes a culture that permeates the lives of countless citizens, artists, bloggers, musicians and journalists who have been harassed, threatened, tortured, intimidated, jailed and worse for exercising their basic human right to free expression – and whose perpetrators are protected by an unwitting public and a long history of getting away with it.
Impunity means it is all right to take the voice away from those who speak in the public interest or those with whom you don't agree or those who tell the stories others might not like to hear. It is fine to scare them, threaten their families, intimidate and hurt them to keep them silent.
But this isn't all right. Impunity should not be normalised. It needs to be challenged. IFEX members decided to create a specific day, International Day to End Impunity, on which our voices would be used to raise public awareness about what creates and sustains a culture of impunity, and to call on concerned citizens worldwide to take action – to use their voices to demand justice.
Our campaign initiative, 23 actions in 23 days, aims to publicise specific cases of impunity and to demand accountability through calls to action – whether they be by signing a petition, sending a letter or even tweeting to the authorities. Ultimately, we want to see all those who are living in fear and censorship free to express themselves through their work, and those who thwart that right to be held responsible.
Finding 23 individuals who have been threatened or jailed or have had their work censored wasn't a difficult task. In 2011 we found 23 who had been murdered with impunity in the month of November. That too, wasn't hard to do. But it should be.
People featured in our campaign believe that having their story told to an international audience will make a difference in their case, and will help others as well. They agreed to be part of the 23 in 23 for this reason. One of those highlighted, Philippine lawyer Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, hopes "the campaign to end impunity brings about the desired institutional and policy changes that will hasten the attainment of justice." Another of the 23, Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, tweeted to her large group of followers, "Our faces are the thousands of victims worldwide."
At IFEX, our members from around the world tell us of people whose right to free expression is being violated and who are forced to live in fear, in jail or in exile every day. Every year, new cases will undoubtedly arise. Every year, the International Day to End Impunity will continue to offer the opportunity to address the issues.
We know the day itself is not the solution. Our hope is that the 23 individuals who are the focus of this campaign – as well as the many people they represent – will be buoyed by international support, and that their cases will somehow be addressed, allowing them to safely continue their important contributions to the public.
Annie Game is Executive Director of the global free expression network IFEX, which coordinates the International Day to End Impunity.
MORE ABOUT THE DAY
Why the Day of Impunity is so vital to journalists across the globe (The Guardian)
Video: Anish Kapoor, artists and Index on Censorship go Gangnam Style for Ai Weiwei and the Day to End Impunity