International Day to End Impunity now official

The Third Committee of the United Nations General assembly on 26 November passed a resolution on the safety or journalists and the issue of impunity, among others setting 2 November as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

The resolution was passed without vote by the UN’s Committee for Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs Committee (SOCHUM), one of six main committees of the international body, which is also called the “Third Committee”.

The resolution, one of 19 passed by the Third Committee yesterday, takes off from previous resolutions by various UN bodies to protect the work of journalists, including a resolution by the Human Rights Council and a joint plan of action by different UN bodies, both approved in 2012.

Previously, the International Day to End Impunity (IDEI) was commemorated annually by freedom of expression advocates on 23 November to mark the anniversary of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, during which 58 persons were brutally murdered, including 32 media workers – the most horrific act of journalist killings globally.

“It would have been more meaningful if November 23 was chosen as the official IDEI date,” said SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran, “for it would underline the urgency of the problem of violence against journalists and impunity of perpetrators.”

“Still, having an official day means we can join governments in commemorating the date, and especially in working together to address this serious problem of impunity,” Gayathry added.

“It is still symbolic that the UN General Assembly passed the resolution almost immediately after we commemorated the IDEI,” she noted further.

No support from the region

Gayathry expressed concerned that “not one country in Southeast Asia co-sponsored the resolution even though it is a problem throughout the region.”

Co-sponsoring the resolution “would have demonstrated the ASEAN member governments’ acknowledgement that the problem exists, and would have been a sign of their commitment to address the culture of impunity in the region,” Gayathry explained.

“For three years now, we have been campaigning on the issue of impunity in Southeast Asia but have received nothing more than polite acknowledgement from government representatives,” said Kulachada Chaipipat, SEAPA campaign manager.

Media freedom groups have been pressuring their respective governments for justice in the numerous cases of impunity killings, but little progress has been made in terms of investigations and prosecutions.

“Governments in the region have been in denial about impunity,” Kulachada said.

For example, the Philippines Communications Secretary, said in a 22 November press briefing that journalists killings were “not so serious”, if one did not consider the Ampatuan massacre.

“But the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia where journalists were killed in 2013 – and there were at least six,” Kulachada said.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), a SEAPA member, noted that the case backlog of journalist murders is at a highest point during the term of President Benigno Aquino, with 23 killings recorded.

If the Ampatuan massacre is not counted, “there are now more journalists killed per year on average under Aquino” than any other president after 1986, noted the PCIJ.

The bigger problem is that most cases remain unsolved, including the 2012 killing of Cambodian journalist Heng Serei Oudom, after the court dismissed in August 2013 the case against the primary suspects for lack of evidence.