International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
Journalists are as vital as civil society activists in safeguarding human rights and democracy around the world. The U.N. Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognizes the critical importance of access to information about human rights and fundamental freedoms, which would not be possible without the courageous work of the press.
However, journalists often face threats, intimidation, and violence from perpetrators who rarely face consequences. The U.N. General Assembly established the annual International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists two years ago. The date, November 2, was chosen to commemorate the assassination of two French journalists in Mali in 2013.
In our work at Human Rights First, we’ve seen the vital role of journalists firsthand in Bahrain and Kenya.
In Bahrain, the pro-government press dominates the airwaves while independent journalists who criticize the kingdom are subjected to arbitrary detention and torture. Restoring a free press in Bahrain is essential to advancing a political solution to the current crisis, and to stave off the rampant corruption that undermines reform and reconciliation. Our most recent blueprint on Bahrain details recommendations for Washington to help bring stability and reform to the country, and calls on the Obama Administration to publicly press for international media outlets to be allowed to enter Bahrain.
In Kenya, members of the press are routinely targeted and beaten for exposing security forces’ abuses. In our research for our blueprint on how the U.S. government can help counter violent extremism and support civil society in Kenya, some of our most valuable resources were journalists who witnessed rule-of-law violations by law enforcement officers charged with counterterrorism work. They put their lives on the line in order to expose this serious misconduct and the related crackdown on civil society.
Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry honored this day by recognizing the epidemic proportions of violence committed against journalists simply for doing their jobs. He cited statistics indicating that a journalist has been murdered almost every week in the last decade, and that less than 10 percent of crimes against journalists worldwide lead to arrest or punishment.
We agree with Secretary Kerry that journalists “should be empowered to seek the truth without fear of reprisal.” Much more can be done to promote accountability, including U.S. assistance for investigations into attacks and support for full and fair prosecutions. This is as true for repressive U.S. allies such as Kenya and Bahrain as anywhere else. We urge the Obama Administration to further incorporate protections for journalists into its strategies to counter violent extremism.