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Violence against journalists on the rise, climate of impunity prevails, says UNESCO

The UNESCO Director-General's biennial report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity was presented on 21 November 2014 in Paris, France, before the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC). Silvia Chocarro Marcesse wrote about the presentation for IFEX.

Getachew Engida, UNESCO Deputy Director General, who presented the report at the Paris meeting on 21 November
Getachew Engida, UNESCO Deputy Director General, who presented the report at the Paris meeting on 21 November

ITU/R.Farrell

Prahlad Goala was a journalist. He began receiving threats after publishing a series of articles in the Asomiya Khabar newspaper linking local forestry service officials to timber smuggling in the district of Golaghat (India). On 6 January 2006 he left his home on a motorcycle and was apparently struck by a truck. When police arrived at the scene, they found that he had been stabbed.

Nearly eight years later, Omar al-Dulaimy died on 31 December 2013 while covering an armed confrontation in the city of Ramadi, west of Bagdad (Iraq).

Goala and al-Dulaimy occupy the first and last place in a list of 593 individuals who have died for practicing journalism between 2006 and 2013. Goala was the first victim in 2006, a year that saw 70 journalists die. Al-Dulaimy was the last of a total of 91 in 2013.

The last two years, 2012-2013, were the most deadly since UNESCO's Director-General began producing the biennial report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity. The latest report was introduced on 21 November 2014, at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. The report was presented before the 39 member states of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), which is in charge of discussing the report's findings.

The report reveals that the ten most dangerous countries in 2012-2013 were Syria (48 victims), Somalia (25), Iraq (18), Pakistan (18), the Philippines (12), Brazil (11), Mexico (10), Honduras (9), India (7) and Colombia (6). The situation in Egypt is also noteworthy since during the previous seven years only one journalist was killed, while six were assassinated in 2013 alone.

Goala and al-Dulaimy were local journalists, not foreign correspondents in countries in conflict. According to the report, for which an executive summary is available, 94 percent of the victims have been journalists who reported on local affairs. These two journalists were also men, as were 94 percent of those who have died, although the report also highlights specific risks faced by women, including harassment and sexual assault.

UNESCO requests judicial information, but receives few responses

Nearly nine years on, the investigation into the death of Prahlad Goala has been inconclusive. The same applies to another 171 cases. During the presentation of the report, UNESCO Deputy Director-General Getachew Engida noted that 29 percent of the investigations documented by UNESCO in the last eight years remain open.

With respect to Omar al-Dulaimy, however, nothing is known. It is not known whether his death was or is being investigated since UNESCO has not received any information from the Iraqi government regarding an inquiry into his case. This situation applies not only in al-Dulaimy's case, but also in the cases of another 105 journalists killed in Iraq in the period covered by the report. In producing the report, the United Nations (UN) agency requests information from governments regarding the progress of investigations, but no information has been received in 382 of the 593 cases, 64 percent of the total. Only 39 cases, representing less than seven percent, have been resolved.

The danger of these figures, as noted by Engida, is that this "climate of impunity allows perpetrators to continue attacks without restraint."

With respect to the low response rate by governments to UNESCO's requests for information, the Director-General, in an article recently published in the Mexican newspaper El Universal, stated, "This cannot go on. I wish to encourage all governments to better show their commitment to justice for killed journalists by responding to requests to voluntarily report on what is happening with judicial follow-up.”

UNESCO will facilitate improved participation by governments

The failure to provide information could be due not only to a lack of political will but, as UNESCO's Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Guy Berger, noted to IFEX, it could also be due to a lack of understanding of the process and, at times, deficiencies in the institutional capacity required to provide the information. The latter, for example, was one of the reasons given by Pakistan during the discussion to explain the lack of information for 29 of the 43 cases documented in the report for that country. For its part, Yemen said it was in "shock" at the news that UNESCO had received information in less than 36% of requests, although according to the report it was one of the countries that failed to respond to UNESCO. As a result of the above, Berger confirmed that support will be offered to governments to assist them in responding in a timely and appropriate manner in future.

Of the 62 governments that were asked to provide information on the progress of investigations into violent deaths of journalists, 26 failed to respond in any way. Among them were Iraq (106 victims), Syria (48), Somalia (45), Pakistan (29), Mexico (28), India (15) and Brazil (14). When questioned by IFEX, a Brazilian representative said his government is preparing a document with updated information to send to UNESCO.

More transparency in spite of everything

Despite the low response rate from governments, some of the information that has come in has begun to be made available on the UNESCO web page. This information is proving especially useful for civil society groups, including IFEX members. Governments provide information and allow for publication on a voluntary basis. Doing so in and of itself demonstrates a move towards "transparency" and acting "in good faith", Guy Berger told IFEX. In addition, the UNESCO Deputy Director-General noted that the information received is fundamentally important because this is the only report produced at a global level that details the status of judicial investigations into the deaths of journalists.

In the latest report, several countries provided approval for publication of the data they sent to UNESCO, among them Bahrain, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, the Philippines, Honduras, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Tanzania, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Vietnam. Documentation for each case can be found on the UNESCO web page. The representative for Honduras, for example, said that they have done this because "they have nothing to hide."

Consensus decision to continue with the report, including in cases of "non-conventional" journalists

In 2008, when the first report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity was produced, it primarily included information about journalists who worked for "conventional" media outlets. The reality of journalism in today's world, however, led UNESCO to include "social media producers who generate a significant amount of public-interest journalism" in its 2012 report. During the 21 November 2014 discussion, the participants agreed to redefine the objective of the report in order to include the deaths of "journalists, media workers and social media producers who are engaged in journalistic activities and who are killed or targeted in their line of duty."

This new definition now forms part of the Decision on The safety of journalists and the Danger of Impunity of the IPDC, as approved at the end of the discussions by the Intergovernmental Council based on a proposal put forward by Denmark. Within the Decision is a request for UNESCO to continue producing the biennial report due to its "relevancy", and an appeal to governments to get involved in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which was approved in 2012. The International Director of the Center for Freedom of the Media, William Horsley, one of the few civil society members to attend the discussions, highlighted the need for media outlets to be involved in the process as well.

The 39 member states in the IPDC Council also accepted a proposal by Great Britain to issue a joint demonstration of "regret" regarding the failure of governments to respond to UNESCO's requests for information on the progress of investigations.

Freedom of expression and safety of journalists, key for Sustainable Development Goals

A decision, approved by consensus, calls on all states to encourage the inclusion of freedom of expression, including press freedom and the safety of those who practice journalism, in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are currently being developed at the UN headquarters. In addition, on 20 November, the IDPC approved a related decision.

Both decisions note the key importance of the proposed Goal 16, as it seeks to "promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels." The possibility of incorporating freedom of expression in the SDGs, however, has been a topic of intense debate and achieving its inclusion remains a challenge that is being closely followed by civil society groups and the IFEX network. The IPDC's decisions will be a useful tool for further progress.

Sivia Chocarro Marcesse is a journalist and consultant on freedom of expression issues. @silviachocarro

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