International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists was established in 2013 by UNESCO to highlight the need for a free media and for the protection of journalists.

Perpetrators of at least 22 murders of journalists in Europe are being shielded from justice, according to the Council of Europe Platform for the protection of journalism and safety of journalists, of which the Rory Peck Trust is a partner.

UNESCO reports that close to 1,200 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2019 for reporting the news. In most cases, those responsible get away unscathed. “Today we mark the sad fact of widespread impunity for crimes against journalists,” RPT Director Clothilde Redfern said. “9 out of 10 cases of killed journalists remain unsolved. More must be done to create tools that facilitate justice.”

To mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, Sabriyah Saeed of the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation evaluates the effectiveness of the UK’s sanctions for crimes against journalists:

“Targeted sanctions can be a powerful mechanism to fight against impunity for crimes against journalists – but their impact depends on how they are used. The UK’s Global Human Rights (GHR) sanctions regime, which launched on July 6th, epitomises this issue – it provides an important framework to penalise human rights violators, but necessitates an expansion of its parameters to be as effective as possible. 

The UK provides no scope to sanction individuals on the basis of corruption. Whilst Dominic Raab has noted that there are plans to add corruption to the regime, it is integral that this is done swiftly, since serious crimes against journalists are often a consequence of them exposing corrupt networks and regimes, as was the case with Sergei Magnitsky. Sanctioning tools should fundamentally act as deterrents that pre-emptively protect journalists. A failure to recognise the intrinsicness of corruption counterproductively fosters a culture of impunity in allowing dangerous perpetrators to slip through the cracks. 

The UK’s regime must also recognise the significant role of non-state actors, particularly powerful oligarch-type figures, as perpetrators. Sanctions for human rights violations are currently restricted to those acting as the state or on behalf thereof. Sudan’s Ashraf Al-Cardinal and Malta’s Yorgen Fenech may not be state actors, but they wield such political and financial influence over their respective countries that sanctioning them would be equally impactful. The ability to sanction autonomous non-state actors weaves a bigger net to catch crimes. 

Importantly, there aren’t any clear grounds to implement sanctions for serious, more systemic restrictions on journalists. Internet shutdowns are an increasingly popular tactic employed by states to gag media freedom – the shutdown of Al Jazeera’s Sudanese bureau during pro-democracy demonstrations and India’s internet lockdown of Jammu & Kashmir are just two examples. The UK should respond through the use of targeted sanctions against individuals in oppressive command chains. 

The tools we use against such serious violations must match up to the violations themselves. Fundamentally, it is not just the UK that needs to make these considerations, but also other nations seeking to implement a Magnitsky-style regime to end impunity.”