The Impunity Initiative: Developing legal and political remedies for violence against journalists and judicial impunity

The Initiative on Impunity and the Rule of Law is a global project of the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLJJ) at City University, London.

Our aims are to provide an independent platform to assess the effectiveness of existing legal, political and institutional safeguards against violence directed at journalists because of their professional work; and to present the case for more effective international mechanisms to counter such crimes of violence and to end impunity.

Journalists play a vital role in providing reliable information on matters of public interest and their work can expose them to special risks of physical violence and arbitrary prosecution.

As documented by UNESCO, the annual toll of targeted killings of journalist, and the effective impunity related to crimes of violence against them, have risen to historically high levels, causing serious concern among journalists, jurists, human rights organisations and governments. States are obnliged under international law to respect and protect individuals exercising the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to ensure that those rights are upheld. Those obligations also apply in times of conflict.

Intimidation and violence directed at journalists because of their role in monitoring the exercise of state powers and matters of public interest, as well as failures to investigate and prosecute such crimes promtly and effectively, have been identified by United Nations bodies and other relevant organisations as matters that require a coordinated response by States.

The Initiative is conducting collaborative research and consultation among academic and legal experts, national government officials, Inter-Governmental Organisations, and civil society and media representatives, to advance our aims.

The findings and provisional draft proposals from PHASE ONE of the work will be considered at a gathering of experts and policy-makers at the Working Conference held at City University on 1 June 2011.

Our initial research consists of three strands, focused principally but not exclusively on the European area:-

  1. A Paper on International Legal Instruments,  international case law and the execution of ECHR court judgements, including analysis of the current gaps in enforcement of states’ commitments, and the extent of relevant rights and obligations in law.
  2. A Political Aspects Study, analysing the nature of alleged climates of impunity in terms of political and judicial processes, the impact of formal and informal channels used to seek compliance with international norms and commitments, and alternative future courses of action at national and international level.
  3. A survey of NGOs directly involved in combating impunity in journalism.

PHASE TWO of the Initiative’s programme of research and policy development will begin during 2011. It will construct a wider international platform of academic and legal expertise, in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental bodies, to develop and seek acceptance for the enhanced political and legal instruments needed to realise the Initiative’s founding aims.
Archbishop Tutu Appeal & Message to the Conference

More information on the work of the Initiative will continue to appear on this site.

Contacts: William Horsley on; Professor Jackie Harrison on , Professor Lorna Woods on; Prof Howard Tumber on


The Directors of the Impunity Initiative wish to thank the sponsors who made the research and the Working Conference possible – the Open Society Foundation ; the Norwegian PEN organisation and the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO.

Directors of the Initiative

William Horsley, International Director of CFOM, University of Sheffield, and Coordinator of the Impunity Initiative

Prof Jackie Harrison, Chairman of CFOM Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield

Prof Howard Tumber, Director of Journalism, CLJJ, City University, London

Prof Lorna Woods, Director of Law, CLJJ, City University, London

Research Team

Dr Carmen Draghici, Lecturer in Law, The City Law School, City University, London

Dr Dimitris Xenos, Researcher, The City Law School, City University, London

William Horsley, International Director of CFOM & Hon. Lecturer, Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield


Advisory Committee Members

Mark Ellis, Director, International Bar Association

Jo Glanville, Editor of Index on Censorship

Miklos Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media; Adjunct Professor, Columbia Law School, USA

Lord Frank Judd, Saferworld and the UK House of Lords

Edward Mortimer, Director of the Salzburg Global Seminar and former adviser to the UN Secretary-General

Peter Noorlander, Legal Director, Media Legal Defence Initiative

Rodney Pinder, Director, International News Safety Institute