Impunity for murders of journalists discussed in Vienna and Paris

In the past two days, two international events took place dealing with the issue of the impunity for murders of journalists. osce.orgSource: B92
Harlem Desir (OSCE)
Harlem Desir (OSCE)

The gatherings were organized by OSCE in Vienna, and by UNESCO in Paris.

Hundreds of experts and many representatives of international organizations took part, including Veran Matic, president of the Serbian Commission Investigating Murders of Journalists.

The Serbian Commission was presented in both meetings as a rare active models of facing with the issue of impunity, which involves joint engagement of government representatives and journalists.

Speaking in Vienna, OSCE's Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir said:

“In around 85 percent of cases concerning killing of journalists in the OSCE region, the perpetrators and masterminds remain unpunished. This is a shameful truth that requires action,” the Representative said in his opening remarks. “Impunity leads to self-censorship and breeds further violence. Governments must step up their efforts to fully investigate and end impunity for murders of journalists.”

“One murdered journalist is one too many: as a global society we must mobilize all our forces to assess the true cost for a free press. Caring about democracy and human rights means caring about free and fearless journalism. We are here to help cement the foundations of democracy by strengthening international efforts for the protection of journalists and for people’s right to the facts,” said Katharine Sarikakis, professor of Media Industries, Media Organization and Media Governance at the University of Vienna.

A keynote speech was delivered by Paul Caruana Galizia together with his brothers Matthew and Andrew Caruana Galizia, sons of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated in October.

Desir said: “Ending impunity is an absolute imperative for me as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. I reiterate my call on all OSCE participating States to take all steps necessary to fully investigate all crimes committed against media workers. This is essential for the effective functioning of our democracies.”

The meeting gathered around 100 participants, including experts from across the OSCE region to discuss the practical, methodological and ethical aspects of monitoring the deaths of journalists and collecting information on such cases. Ways to improve and amend current practices in the OSCE region to enhance journalists’ safety were also discussed. Among the experts were representatives from the Council of Europe, UNESCO, Reporters without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists, the European Federation of Journalists, the Association of European Journalists, Article 19, and the Index on Censorship, the OSCE said on its website.

The presentation of the work of the Serbian Commission was received with great attention as this is a unique case that unites the efforts of state institutions and journalists, with the aim of
keeping the cases constantly open, with ongoing investigations until indictments are raised.

"Political will is of utmost importance in solving the cases, and it is being created by working on a national consensus that no one should remain unpunished for the killing of journalists, as impunity only encourages and creates the climate that killing journalists is the cheapest way of censorship," Matic said, and added:

"Moreover, solving those cases contributes to creating the foundation for the strategies that need to provide conditions to prevent bullies from making threats, violence and killings. Fast investigations and efficient court proceedings, along with verdict with high penalties, are the basis of prevention."

Daphne Caruana Galizia's sons speak

R-L: Andrew, Matthew and Paul Caruana Galizia,Katherine Sarikakis, Christian Sohal, and Harlem Desir (UNESCO)
R-L: Andrew, Matthew and Paul Caruana Galizia,Katherine Sarikakis, Christian Sohal, and Harlem Desir (UNESCO)

Keynote speech delivered on December 11, at the OSCE in Vienna


Let me start by thanking Harlem Desir, Frane Maroevic and everyone else here at the OSCE for organising this event and for inviting me and my brothers to speak today.

We speak to you today as the sons of a murdered journalist, our mother Daphne Caruana Galizia. But it isn’t only murder that we want to speak about.

We are late far too late if we speak only about murder.

Before a journalist is murdered, they are harassed physically, psychologically, financially.

And here too there is impunity.

- Veronica Guerin: countless death threats, two shots into her home, gun to her head, bullet in her leg

- Anna Politkovskaya: countless death threats, military arrest, mock execution, near fatal poisoning.

- Daphne Caruana Galizia: countless death threats, arson attacks, 57, 57 law suits, bank accounts frozen, arrests, tax investigations.
The death threats our mother received and the arson attacks on our home have gone unpunished. The law suits against her remain.

The last time she left our house was to go to the bank. She wanted access to her account; frozen by Malta’s Economy Minister. She barely made it out of our drive, dying without access to her own money, while the Minister remains in cabinet, and we her heirs continue fighting him in court to have that money released.

Here again, we have impunity.

Journalists are killed for what they write. What they write remains after them as does their reputation and credibility. Those who harass journalists in life have the same reasons to harass them in death, seeking to undermine their reputation, destroy their credibility, and erase their memory.

Anna Politkovskaya’s husband once said to his wife that what she did was “not journalism”; it was “a justice alarm.”

An end to impunity for crimes against journalists means one thing: that they should only need to raise the alarm once and not by dying.


When those alarms ring they don’t ring for journalists, they ring for all of us.

The impunity with which journalists are harassed and murdered is more our problem than theirs. Each blow they suffer hits each and every one of us, summing up to a social loss we see only too late.

And that’s the strange thing about a journalist’s death: that the collective loss outweighs the individual loss. The journalist loses their life, but we the living lose our right to know, to speak, to learn.

Neither is the impunity with which journalists are harassed and murdered simply an attack on media freedom.

The free flow of facts and opinions, the stock and trade of journalists, creates societies that are fairer and freer. It creates societies that are richer and more resilient: in other words, societies that are worth
living in.

Veronica Guerin cried to the heavens for justice for the young victims of Ireland’s drug barons. Every Sunday she told us, "They are destroying lives, and they are practically untouchable." She told us of Dublin and its “culture of violence, money and evil”.

Alarm, after alarm, ringing louder and louder.

Veronica Guerin didn’t live to see her subjects face justice. She raised one final alarm. Stopped at a red traffic light, she was shot fatally six times by two men.

Within a week, the Irish government enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act and established the Criminal Assets Bureau. Over 150 arrests, the seizure of drugs, arms, and assets followed.

But one day that “culture of violence, money and evil” will return and there’ll be no Veronica Guerin to raise the alarm. That is our collective loss.

We can’t keep trading journalists’ lives for our shortrun benefit. Neither do we need to.


The Committee to Protect Journalists tells us that over the last 25 years, the deadliest ‘beat’ for a journalist was not war. It was politics. More journalists were killed covering politics at home than embedded in a battalion in Kandahar or reporting on fresh barbarities out of Syria.

If we add corruption to politics, then we have two thirds of dead journalists in a single category. Two thirds. Two thirds of journalists are killed for covering corruption and politics at home.

That’s the most dangerous area to cover if you’re a journalist: corruption and politics.

And the worst thing about it is, that if you get killed doing your job, the same people you were investigating will be the same people leading or interfering in your own murder investigation.

Your surviving family, friends and colleagues meanwhile will live on in fear, knowing perhaps that the people who killed you are on the television, in parliament or, worse, linked to the police.

This makes no sense. It is in fact the best way to ensure impunity.

Investigative journalists will always, in one way or another, report on weak or flawed institutions. If it’s a mining company bribing government officials or a bank holding the proceeds of corruption, it cannot happen without institutional complicity at some level.

The journalists’ deaths are then investigated by the very same flawed institutions that so successfully ensured the first crime corruption and the second one, murder.

And here’s what we get.

According to this year’s CPJ Global Impunity Index, there has been full justice, including prosecution of those who commissioned the crime, in only 4 percent of cases involving murdered journalists.

4 percent. A depressing statistic for me and my family. But for you, those working to change this, it means that with such a low starting point, it’s almost impossible not to achieve progress.

When a journalist reporting on corruption and politics is killed by paid assassins, the first thing we should do, as individuals, civil society, governments and international organisations, is to make it our starting point that there was institutional complicity, at some level, in the murder.

Once we accept that, the next steps are clear: the investigation should not only be independent and impartial but it should, as a matter of course, have international observers with access to everything the national police look at.

In high profile cases, a complete international team of investigators should be sent in.

We need an international mechanism for whistleblowers and the sources of murdered journalists to go to with information. They can’t be expected to go to national authorities.


There is more we can do while these changes are set in motion

Professor Sarikakis’ work here in Vienna on mapping out murdered journalists around the world is important and helpful.

Let’s complement it with another database one where we record the harassment journalists are subjected to every day. Harassment that they survive. And let’s use that information to raise alarms of our own to save journalists before it’s too late.

Let’s empower organisations like the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders to support and protect journalists who, though they don’t operate in war zones, face serious threats that are both fatal and nonfatal.

Let’s support projects like Forbidden Stories to protect journalists’ work as well as their lives.

But to end impunity for the harassment and murder of journalists, we need cultural and political change.

Let’s be louder and clearer that governments and organisations have no business in targeting, in any way, journalists and their work.

Governments and organisations, criminal or corporate, have no business in trying to silence our alarms. Let’s drop criminal defamation laws, let’s set an evidence threshold, clearer parameters and lower fines on libel laws.

And when a journalist raises an alarm, let us listen closely and carefully and act before they are murdered.

Thank you.

The Paris event

This interactive workshop, held within the framework of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the celebrations of Human Rights Day, focused on sharing information about national initiatives to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks against journalists.

Organized by Members of the UNESCO Group of Friends for the Safety of Journalists, the event was opened by the UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay. It featured presentations by a panel of experts from Afghanistan, Colombia, Senegal, Serbia and Sweden, and followed by an interactive debate with the audience. The recent Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Strengthening the Implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity organized in Geneva on 29 June 2017 provided an opportunity to take stock of practices and experiences to foster safety of journalists throughout the world.

With more than 800 journalists killed in the last decade and countless other victims of violence and intimidation, there is a pressing to need to explore new ways to reinforce the safety of journalists on the ground.

The 39th UNESCO General Conference encouraged Member States in Resolution C/61 to "strengthen voluntary implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity at country level, including through capacity building and the establishment of national safety mechanisms to prevent, protect against, and prosecute attacks on journalists and to combat impunity."

The event on 12 December focused on sharing information about existing initiatives in this area that have had a concrete impact on improving the safety of journalists and/or addressing impunity of crimes committed against them. Such good practices show that cooperation between stakeholders can bring about positive results.

Presenting the work of the Commission Investigating Murders of Journalists, Veran Matic underlined the necessity of the states to deal with investigating the murders of journalists on a national level, claiming that adopting resolutions is not enough, but that it is necessary to introduce unique standards and procedures when it comes to facing with the issue of impunity. Furthermore, it is necessary to make more efficient models of prevention of violence against journalists, as well as mechanisms for urgent action, when it comes to threats and endangerment of safety. Simply, technological innovations, media transformation and the role of journalists changed, which brought about new forms of endangering their safety, and this happens so quickly, that we need timely responses, not only solving the
cases when they happen.

Matic also stressed that stronger coordination is needed between diverse international and national organizations that deal with this issue, such as OSCE, Council of Europe, UN General Secretary, UNESCO. along with numerous international journalistic associations, such as Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, International Press Institute. All of those organizations possess their own data base of murdered journalists, producing their own methodological concepts, and it is necessary to make joint efforts through innovative activities and action plans that would contribute to strengthening international response, thus assisting in making and fostering national strategies for protection of journalists and fighting impunity.

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