November 2, 2021 marks the International Day for the End of Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The statistics on murders of journalists reveal a very worrying pattern, with the year 2021, recording 35 journalists killed around the world for their work including 4 in Africa. In the West African region, Nigeria and Ghana reported one murder each, while Burkina Faso recorded two murders. On this landmark day, ARTICLE 19, Journalists in Danger (JED), the Association of professionals of the online press (Association des professionnels de la presse en ligne – Appel) and FactSpace West Africa call on African governments to thoroughly investigate the killings of journalists and implement measures to end the culture of impunity.
Speaking on the occasion, Alfred Bulakali, Deputy Regional Director said:
” Today is an opportunity to pay tribute to all journalists who have been killed because of their work. These crimes against journalists are unacceptable and must not go unpunished. They violate the right to life and aim to deprive the public of the right to information. States have the obligation to put in place effective mechanisms to prevent such killings, protect journalists and bring perpetrators to justice. The end of impunity for such crimes is essential in a democratic state”.
Attacks against journalists fuel a culture of terror and endanger their safety and protection. Journalists, who play an essential role in guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression and access to information, are increasingly subject to verbal and physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and detentions, harassment, imprisonment, and intimidation. These acts, which seriously undermine press freedom, are perpetrated by law enforcement officials, unknown individuals, or identified groups whose objective is to muzzle freedom of expression and restrict the public’s access to information in violation of regional and international standards applicable to States.
According to the UNESCO Observatory of Murdered Journalists, between 2006 and 2021, more than 1,200 journalists were killed worldwide and nearly 607 cases remain unsolved.
Journalist in Danger (JED), through its annual report to be released on November 2, 2021, on the occasion of the World Day against Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, has documented at least three cases of journalists killed during this year in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
For Tshivis Tshivuadi, Secretary General of JED: “these murders extend a long list of journalists killed in the country over the past ten years in circumstances that have never been elucidated. JED denounces the apparent lack of interest of the Congolese authorities in convicting those responsible for these murders, as well as the impunity that fosters a climate of insecurity for Congolese journalists.”
Impunity creates a cycle that gradually reduces freedom of expression. When journalists can be attacked and silenced with impunity, it encourages other perpetrators to carry out similar attacks and encourages journalists to censor themselves. It further impacts on citizen’s right to information. In fact, if journalists self censor themselves, the whole society suffers from it as timely accurate and reliable information is no longer available or is delayed to be provided.
The right to life is an inalienable right of every person and no one has the right to end the life of another person for any reason. This right is guaranteed by several international human rights documents binding on the State, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). In its briefing entitled UN: Commitments on paper to protect journalists not enough, ARTICLE 19 calls on states to create a permanent UN instrument on criminal investigations of targeted killings against journalists and human rights defenders.
Press Freedom Under Threat in Africa
From detention to murder, journalists continue to face a number of impediments that affected not only their physical and moral integrity but also press freedom. Since 1990, At least 229 journalists around the world have reportedly been imprisoned for their work. Some journalists even died in detention, as happened to the Cameroonian journalist Samuel Ebuwe Ajieka, known as “Samuel Wazizi.
A number of governments in Africa continue to pass repressive laws such as cybercrime laws to stifle the citizen’s right of access to information and the freedom of expression of journalists which are important cornerstones of democracy. While prison sentences for defamation have been repealed in many African countries, like Niger, many other governments continue to enforce these draconian laws and continue to imprison journalists contrary to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which not only guarantees the safety of journalists and other media professionals, but calls on states to “review all criminal restrictions on content to ensure that they are justified and in line with international human rights law and standards… to repeal criminal defamation and libel laws in favor of sanctions that are themselves necessary and proportionate”.
The authorities also resorted to judicial harassment to silence journalists in order to muzzle freedom of expression and restrict access to information in some countries. For instance Guinean authorities have used judicial harassment to silence pro-democracy and human rights activists and journalists. Under international human rights law, any legislation restricting the right to freedom of expression must meet the test of legality, necessity, and proportionality.
“Judges and magistrates play a crucial role in ending impunity for crimes against journalists. They need to be aware of all the regional and international instruments that have been adopted to promote the safety of journalists,” stressed Pansy Tlakula, the then Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa,on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in 2016 ; “In this regard, we need to create more awareness programs not only for magistrates and judges, but also for police and prosecutors.”
Furthermore, UNESCO Guidelines for Prosecutors on Cases of Crimes Against Journalists recommend that prosecutors receive specialized training on fundamental rights related to the exercise of the roles and functions of journalists and the protection of journalistic sources when, conducting investigations, supervising investigations, giving advisory assistance to the law enforcement agencies, as well as making decisions on whether to initiate criminal proceedings.
International standards on the safety of journalists and the fight against impunity
With regards to the standards dealing with the safety and security of journalists, there are a number of standards which call on states to prevent attacks, protect journalists from such attacks, and hold perpetrators accountable. These includes, The United Nations General Assembly resolution on “the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity“, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa , as well as the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity
This joint statement is part of the project “Response to COVID-19 in Africa: Together for Reliable Information” supported by the European Union, which documents the risks faced by journalists during the pandemic, and provides essential, timely support and resource materials to independent media and journalists in 17 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to help them fulfill their role of providing quality and reliable information about the pandemic.
For more information about the project, please visit: https://www.article19.org/covid-19-response-in-africa/
For more information, please contact
Alfred Nkuru BULAKALI, Deputy Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +221 33 869 03 22
Tshivis T. TSHIVUADI, Journalist in Danger (JED), Secretary General
Email : email@example.com Tel: +243 819 996 353 – 099 99 96 353
Ibrahima Lissa FAYE, President of the Association des professionnels de la presse en ligne (APPEL) Email : firstname.lastname@example.org Tel : +221776502385