THE International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has urged international development institutions and donor agencies to make respect for press freedom and media protection among key criteria in providing aid to countries with high levels of violence against journalists.

“... We urge the United Nations (UN), its agencies and other international institutions such as the World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) to take all necessary measures, including financial sanctions, to end impunity for killings of journalists who play a public role,” said IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger.

“Impunity is an attack on freedom of expression and, ultimately, denies fundamental human rights to the public. Now is the time for everyone to take their responsibilities and act accordingly,” he added.

In a news release, the IFJ cited the suspension of a European aid to Sri Lanka in 2009 as one good case in “linking development and economic aid to genuine commitment to respect journalists' rights...”

It said that during that time, the press freedom organisations were able to make “a successful case for such measures by the European Union (EU), leading to the suspension of an economic partnership with Sri Lanka in 2009.”

“(The IFJ) therefore believes that targeted financial sanctions can contribute to the fight against impunity for journalists’ killers,” the group explained.

This year, advocates of freedom of expression throughout the world are focusing attention on Mexico, the Philippines, Yemen and Ukraine owing to the gravity of the situation of impunity in these countries.

On November 23, all eyes will be on the Philippines as the world commemorates the sixth year after the grisly Maguindanao massacre that killed 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists and media workers.

It was the worst single attack on the press. Not one has been convicted yet for the crime and some of the principal suspects are out on bail.

On November 3, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged governments to “do more” to combat the trend of impunity on violence against journalists.

“Such impunity deepens fears among journalists and enables Governments to get away with censorship,” Ban said in a statement.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), more than 700 journalists have been killed in the line of duty from 2006 to 2015. That is, one journalist is killed every five days.

Of these, only seven percent of total cases were resolved and less than one in every 10 cases are fully investigated.

Judicial cooperation

Apart from leveraging aid, the IFJ proposes “judicial cooperation” among UN member-states.

“We are urging them to cooperate through sharing technical expertise and know-how, training as well as best practices in investigating killings of journalists in order to make a difference to a situation which has become a safety crisis in media,” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha.

Boumelha lamented that “there is very little use made of capacity, experience and skills which many UN member states can share among themselves to solve journalists’ murders.”

The IFJ has urged for a “special focus on the promotion of close collaboration between governments’ laws enforcement agencies and specialised international institutions such as the UN Office of Drugs and Crime to investigate violence on journalists.”

The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity laid out assistance to member states in, among others, developing legislation and mechanisms guaranteeing freedom of expression and information, and safeguarding journalists and media professionals.

The Plan of Action also encourages member states “to take an active role in the prevention of attacks against journalists, and take prompt action in response to attacks...”

Get tough on gov’ts

Amid the gravity of the impunity situation, Bellanger urged the UN to “get tough on unwilling and corrupt governments” in a bid to increase the chances the available international instruments to address the problem are implemented.

In May this year, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2222 on the protection of journalists, its second resolution on media safety following its 2006 resolution dealing on the protection of journalists working in war zones.

In 1997, the Unesco General Conference adopted a resolution urging member states “to adopt the principle that there should be no statute of limitations on persons guilty of crimes against freedom of expression” and ensure that defamation or libel is reclassified as a civil, not a criminal offense.

According to the UN Plan of Action, “the safety of journalists and the struggle against impunity for their killers are essential to preserve the fundamental right to freedom of expression, guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”