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

What is the project?

The Initiative on Impunity and the Rule of Law was a global project between CFOM at the University of Sheffield and also the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism (CLIJ) at City University, London. The aim of the project was 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. The project also presented the case for more effective international mechanisms to counter such crimes of violence and to end impunity. The project involved collaborative research and consultation among academic and legal experts, national government officials, Inter-Governmental Organisations, and civil society and media representatives.  The project was split into two phases.

Phase 1

Phase 1 of the project involved a Legal Instruments study examining court judgments alongside 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. More can be read here on the working conference that was held as part of phase 1. 

Phase 2

Phase 2 of the Initiative’s programme of research and policy development began during 2011 and constructed 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. More can be read below on the recommendations that were put forward from research on the project.

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. It is important that we improve measures to protect their freedom to report

Professor Jackie Harrison

CFOM Chair

Research and Recommendations from the Working Conference

Following the writing of the Legal Instruments study and the Political Aspects Study, both studies were compiled into a research document that also detailed the programme from the working conference. The document provided six recommendations for elements to be included by State Parties in a Declaration or Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and ending Impunity. These recommendations included a need to set out expected standards of protection by States, urging protections for journalists on dangerous assignments in non-conflict zones, reviewing UN mandates and procedures and establishing a permanent inter-Agency coordination mechanism to promote clear standards of freedom of expression. The full report and recommendations can be read here

Research Co-Directors 

  •  William Horsley, International Director of the Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield (left image)
  • Professor Jackie Harrison, Chair of the Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield (middle image)
  • Professor Howard Tumber, Director of Journalism, Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University, London (right image)
  • Professor Lorna Woods, Director of Law, Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism, City University London