Mentioning the word impunity is like rubbing salt and lemon on a victim's wounds. A little more than 12 years ago, when violence had not yet touched my life, I talked and wrote about impunity without circumspection, without awareness, without thinking about those who faced it and suffered from it.
On 25 May 2000, while I was working on an investigation for the newspaper "El Espectador", a paramilitary leader asked me to meet him at a prison for an interview. But the appointment was a trap. I was kidnapped, tortured and raped, then abandoned. My life almost ended, but my journalism work gave me the courage to persevere. Since that day, the words "denunciation" and "exile" make up part of my work. I have never stopped “denouncing”, and “exile” simply does not exist. I have never gone into exile, and I never will.
On that day, my name was added to the long list of those calling for justice, those who have been forgotten, whose stories are met with disbelief, who demonstrate and lift their voices, who knock on one, two, three dozen doors looking for someone to help, or at least someone willing to listen, without judgment.
Only when we put ourselves in the shoes of the victims can we convey in our writing and our images the full dimensions of this human tragedy. Only when we have felt in our own skin, our own bodies, our own souls, the lacerations of war and conflict, and when we are on the verge of being forgotten, can we understand the full meaning of the word impunity.
This is why 23 November is such a significant date for thousands of men and women. The International Day to End Impunity is a call bringing together the voices of those of us who suffer in silence the pain of injustice, exile, threats, censorship, persecution…and fear.
But with all tragedies, long or short term, there is always an unshakeable hope. For journalists around the world this year, we find that hope in a meaningful and ambitious initiative led by the global free expression network IFEX: to put real faces and stories on the problem of global impunity.
To find my story on one day of the campaign's 23 actions in 23 days calendar, in among other stories similar or more tragic than my own, is gut wrenching. But it also provides a sense of dignity. You may ask yourself how dignity can come from returning to the memories and pain. The answer is straightforward: the simple fact of knowing that I am not alone, that messages of support and calls for action are being taken on my behalf, provides dignity without a doubt.
We 23 stand among many cases throughout the world, and are of many races, creeds and situations, but we all have the same battle cry and the same purpose: we will NOT be silenced. This initiative provides a shield for our cause, and gives wings to our work.
The cases documented by IFEX and published in the impunity calendar also give cause to reflect on the historic responsibility that we have as journalists today. The world is facing severe crises, from war to corruption, from environmental degradation to the pandemic of violence against women in all its forms.
Denouncing these issues has put us in the public eye. But it has also strengthened our commitment to continue speaking out. Millions of people still believe the direction of our societies can be changed through the power of our words, images and voices. We must also believe this. Freedom of expression, today more than ever, calls for us to take action for those who do not have a voice – especially since someone has also taken action for us, as IFEX is doing today.
November 23 should not be a day against impunity for just a few. The world needs to understand that it's a day against impunity for all, because for every journalist that is silenced there is another person, another community, who has no opportunity to make their situation known.
The best example is to be found in the firm voice of Lydia Cacho, the Mexican journalist who, with her condemnations and publications, has saved hundreds of girls and women from the clutches of human trafficking networks. She is far from her home due to threats from organised crime groups, corrupt politicians and drug traffickers. Even under these circumstances she has not stopped fighting. Her battle is for everyone. Her voice is that of everyone… and in this campaign 23 faces represent hundreds of others.
Jineth Bedoya Lima is a journalist with the Colombian daily El Tiempo. She was profiled on the International Day to End Impunity campaign's 23 in 23 calendar on 2 November.