Message for Anti-Impunity Day 2021 by William Horsley, CFOM International Director, on the occasion of the “Roundtable discussion focusing on the important role of prosecutorial services in addressing threats of violence against journalists” arranged by UNESCO and Ossigeno per L’INformazione on 3 November to commemorate 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.

3 November, 2021

Impunity kills. And impunity encourages more killing, says UNESCO.

“Impunity begins not with the murder of a journalist but with the first threat”, says a son of murdered Maltese journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia. Impunity is a sure sign that the state has failed in its duty to protect, and that.the independence of a system of justice is corrupted.

Impunity is the thief that robs the victim of life and justice, and it robs the families of the victims too. It is the vicious gangster who robs us all of the right to speak the truth, and the right to hear the truth from uncensored media, from social media…and from the institutions of the state itself.

What are the roots of impunity? International lawyer Nadim Houry investigated, in a report by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom.

It can arise, he found, when states lack the capacity to gather evidence. But in cases where the suspects include influential  individuals, “powerful individuals seek to block the investigation and any prosecution every step of the way.”

So impunity can be stopped. Who will stop impunity? The media, the international community, public officials, whole societies must learn to see and resist impunity with all their strength.

There are clear rules and techniques to eradicate impunity, like UNESCO’s Guidelines for Prosecutors on cases of crimes against journalists.

The Council of Europe lit up the path to eradicating impunity in its 2016 Ministerial Recommendation. Key principles include establishing any link between an attack and the journalist’s work; a relentless search for masterminds as well as hitman and accomplices; exclusion of anyone implicated in the case in any way; safeguards for the integrity of court proceedings; aggravated penalties for any  obstruction of justice; and public oversight and respect for the rights of bereaved family members.

Impunity has been counted and made into graphs and tables as never before. Yet it persists and spreads. Why? Because, too often, the thief is still allowed to go about its business of robbing us all of justice and our rights.

More information on UNESCO’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists and associated events held by the Centre for Freedom of the Media and others can be accessed here.