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UN expert supports International Day to End Impunity

Ampatuan massacre memorial service: The International Day to End Impunity marks the anniversary of the 23 November 2009 Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, the single deadliest incident for journalists
Ampatuan massacre memorial service: The International Day to End Impunity marks the anniversary of the 23 November 2009 Ampatuan massacre in the Philippines, the single deadliest incident for journalists

REUTERS

The UN's special rapporteur on free expression, Frank La Rue, has announced his support for the International Day to End Impunity, as well as other initiatives that fight unsolved crimes against journalists.

La Rue said he "welcomed the declaration by the IFEX network in 2011 of 23 November as the International Day to End Impunity," pointing out that "impunity is one - if not the main - cause of the unacceptably high number of journalists who are attacked or killed each year."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 574 journalists have been murdered with impunity since 1992.

"Having a rallying point like the International Day to End Impunity is designed to help focus global attention on the issues raised by the special rapporteur and the work being done by IFEX members and other human rights defenders to combat the culture of impunity," said IFEX executive director Annie Game.

La Rue also championed efforts to adopt a United Nations joint Plan of Action on the Protection of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is being coordinated by UNESCO, and called on all states to support the plan.

"The problem in ensuring the protection of journalists worldwide lies not in the lack of international standards, but in the inability or unwillingness of governments to take effective measures," said La Rue as he presented his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 19 June.

La Rue welcomed national initiatives to combat impunity, citing Latin American examples like the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and the protection programmes set up by the government for journalists and human rights defenders in Colombia.

But he singled out for criticism the Special Prosecutor's Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) in Mexico for not achieving results, "due in part to the lack of political will on the part of officials to take up cases and implement an adequate work programme, but also due to lack of autonomy and resources, and the fact that acts of violence against journalists are not prohibited under federal law."

In an encouraging move, La Rue wasn't the only rapporteur to focus on impunity for crimes against journalists at the Human Rights Council session.

ARTICLE 19 points out that the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christoph Heyns investigated the mechanisms in place to provide greater protection to journalists in his report.

Both rapporteurs urged state and non-state actors to secure journalists' rights by implementing international human rights law and monitoring this implementation.

"The overlap of the reports' content suggests that they are intended to be mutually supportive…It also shows how urgently the protection of journalists worldwide needs to be addressed," said ARTICLE 19.

La Rue also noted that the majority of violations against journalists occur outside of armed conflict situations, particularly when covering street protests or reporting on organised crime and politically sensitive issues. He also highlighted the vulnerability of online journalists, as well as the increasing use of criminal laws to suppress media freedom.

Having also visited Israel and Palestine on an official mission last year, La Rue criticised the government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza for unduly limiting free speech through restrictive laws, intimidation and censorship.

He said the measures have had a chilling effect on the work of journalists and peaceful activists, and urged Israel and the Palestinians to uphold international standards on free speech.

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