On the occasion of The International Day to End Impunity, DCMF spoke to Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, on the UN’s action plan to eradicate impunity and the outcomes of the conference held on Nov 22-23 in Vienna.
Even though there is a lot of talk about the threat of impunity, Guy Berger told DCMF: “It is not entirely clear from the date that the rate of impunity is actually increasing, but even if not, this problem continues to be a major contributor to the vicious cycle of journalists being killed.”
Berger discussed the element of fear present in society and how people fear speaking out.
“The response to this is to send a message to killers and would-be killers: there will be legal consequences for crimes against freedom of expression - and so impunity should be a priority to address,” he said. “ The rule of law is especially important to enforce in this is very visible arena.”
In 2012, there has been an increase in the number of deaths of journalists with Syria declared the most dangerous country in the world for media workers. So far, 81 journalists, citizen journalists and media activists have been killed since the anti-regime protests began in early 2011.
With an increasing number of journalists being killed in armed conflicts, can these killings be described as war crimes?
Berger explained that “Security Council Resolution 1738 already requires member states to respect the rights of journalists in conflict situations. The matter now is to ensure implementation.”
However, in many other countries war is not the reason for journalists being killed. Many are killed for reporting on local issues and not conforming to censorship, he said.
“There is a growing consensus that anyone exercising freedom of expression needs protection, and that those who use this right to journalism need particular protection - whether they are formally employed as journalists or whether they are part-time bloggers or citizen journalists,” he noted.
To end violence against journalists and to combat impunity, the United Nations Chief Executives Board approved the first ever UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, in April 2012, in a process spearheaded by UNESCO.
DCMF’s Director Jan Keulen attended the the 2nd UN Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity on 22 and 23 November in Vienna. Keulen presented an open letter at the conference asking international bodies to take a stand against the ongoing injustice directed towards journalists, citizen journalists and other members of the media in Syria, highlighting the urgent needs for steps to be taken.
Berger explained that the outcomes of the conference will be to adopt “a document of some 120 specific actions covering the diverse steps that are needed for a holistic response to the problem. These range from research, monitoring, training, law reform, awareness raising, etc. by UN agencies and many partners. It includes a review mechanism, so there is accountability.”
“The UN Plan helps to boost political will in this regard, and it mobilises training and support for law-reform to back up those states who wish to take advantage of this,” said Berger, adding that “no government likes to be known internationally as presiding over a country that has a bad record in terms of attacks on journalists.”
Berger stressed that promoting public awareness is essential to bringing about a change within communities, so that they will “not tolerate in their midst the existence of killers of journalists.”
Click here to see Doha Centre for Media Freedom's report on "The Threat of Impuniity."