INTERNATIONAL DAY TO END IMPUNITY FOR CRIMES AGAINST JOURNALISTS
By Gbemiga Bamidele
November 2nd of every year is observed as International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The day was set aside by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163, which calls on all member states to take concrete steps to combat the culture of impunity against journalists in their respective countries. The theme for this year is “Keep Truth Alive: Protect Journalists, Protect the Truth.”
The November date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of Claude Verlon and Ghislaire Dupont, two French journalists from Radio France International, who were kidnapped from the town of Kidal in Mali after they had finished interviewing a local political leader on November 2, 2013.
Impunity against journalists has been an issue for years, as indicated in a UNESCO report that shows that in the last decade, a journalist is killed on the average of every four days. The year 2019 witnessed the lowest death toll recorded in the last decade, with 15 deaths. The highest number of fatal attacks occurred in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, representing 40% of the total killings registered worldwide. This was followed by the Asia and the Pacific Region with 26% of the killings. Most of these journalists were killed in countries with no armed conflict.
According to the United Nations, between 2004 and 2014, more than 700 journalists were murdered across the world. An alarming number of these fatalities were either unresolved murders or as a result of shooting in crossfire combat. Only a limited fraction of these were as a result of criminal convictions.
In Nigeria, the Committee on the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) says 24 journalists and media workers have been killed between 1992 and 2022, all in the course of duty.
Since 2013, the commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists has provided a unique opportunity to raise awareness and promote productive discussions among all actors involved in the fight against such crimes.
Journalists as professionals and members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, play a significant role in the attainment and realization of good governance in any nation. Their duty it is to hold political leaders accountable, making way for a virile, viable and sustained democracy. They belong to that arm of government that is not officially recognized by most national constitutions, yet plays a very significant role in the success or otherwise of Governments. Fortunately Nigeria is among the few countries that have enshrined the responsibility of holding government accountable to the people in the country’s constitution.
Journalists are the society’s watchdog and are the most conspicuous supporter of the right to free expression. They play a vital role in fostering a society based on the open discussion of facts and the pursuit of the truth, as opposed to one based on rumor and prejudice, particularly in this era of new media and citizen journalism. However, not all nations subscribe to freedom of expression; in such countries the practice of journalism is seen as very dangerous.
On a day like this, the Society for Journalism Enhancement Initiatives enjoins governments at all levels to protect journalists and ensure a favorable environment for them to carry out their duties.
Governments should uphold the UN charter that guarantees freedom of expression and association by respecting the rights of journalists at all times. The safety of journalists in the performance of their duties and functioning as the fourth estate of the realm must always be protected.
Similarly, Government agencies must ensure that those who commit crimes against media workers are brought to book to stem the reign of impunity. Oppression and impunity must not be condoned in any form in a democratic society.
The citizenry also needs to understand the delicate role of the media as arbiters in the public discourse that must be trusted to clarify the goals of society as it is within the duty of the citizens of any society to defend the freedom of speech and of the press.
It is in recognition of the importance of journalists and the journalism practice for a better and a liberal society that the United Nations set aside November 2, every year as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.