30 April 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY COMMITTEE TO PROTECT JOURNALISTS ON NEW IMPUNITY INDEX


Democratically-elected Governments were not doing enough to prosecute and punish those who murdered journalists, according to new findings released today by the Committee to Protect Journalists at a Headquarters press conference. 


“There’s no greater threat to the free circulation of ideas and information than murder, especially murder without consequence,” said Joel Simon, the Committee’s Executive Director, upon the launch of its new Impunity Index, in advance of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.


The Index, the first of its kind, ranks countries that fail to prosecute journalists’ killers.  In compiling the Index, the Committee examined every country in the world over the past 10 years and calculated the number of unsolved murders of journalists as a percentage of each country’s population.  Countries with five or more unsolved cases during that period were included in the Index.


Thirteen countries made the list.  Topping the rankings were Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia -- three countries that had experienced terrible conflict and, in some cases, a total collapse of the rule of law.  The other countries on the list included Colombia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Nepal, Russian Federation, Mexico, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.


Mr. Simon said that the fact that Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia topped the list was “not a surprise”.  What was surprising, he said, was that nine out of the 13 countries on the Index were peacetime democracies that had functioning law enforcement institutions. 


“I think that’s frankly shocking,” said Mr. Simon.  “It’s a failure on the parts of those Governments to fully engage with this issue and to devote the resources necessary and the political will necessary to bring the killers of journalists to justice.”


Joining Mr. Simon at the press conference were Sheila Coronel, a Professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, and Abbi Wright, the Communications Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Ms. Wright added that journalists in South Asia were particularly vulnerable, as countries from that region made up almost half of the Index.


Ms. Coronel described the situation in her native country, the Philippines.  She said that, despite its current status as a peaceful democracy, it was still one of the deadliest places in the world to be a journalist. 


“The reason for this is because the rule of law is weak,” she said.  “The justice system is compromised -- judges are corrupt or afraid to prosecute the killers or they are under the sway of powerful patrons -- police and law enforcement agencies are in the same situation and, in some cases, the killings have been by rogue policemen or rogue military officers.”


The release of this Index was a “naming and shaming” exercise, she added, meant to build international understanding of the issue and to pressure Governments like hers into solving cases of murder against journalists.


Mr. Simon added that the Impunity Index would be updated annually so that countries would be forced into making a concerted effort to solve cases in order to see their rankings decline.


The Impunity Index was part of a broader initiative launched by the Committee to Protect Journalists in November 2007, called the “Global Campaign against Impunity”.  The Global Campaign included follow-up and support for the countries that made the Impunity Index rankings.  Different strategies would be applied in the different countries on the list, ranging from the creation of federal legislation to public awareness campaigns.


Asked whether the United Nations was doing its part to encourage Governments to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice and to promote freedom of the press, Mr. Simon said he wished that the Organization would be more fully engaged in the issue.


“The United Nations, particularly at the national level, has the ability to make clear to these Governments that this is an issue of international concern.”


Though there had been positive discussions between the Committee and the Secretary-General in the past that had resulted in official statements on impunity and freedom of the press, it was often difficult to turn that rhetorical support into practical implementation across the United Nations bureaucracy.


In response to specific questions about press freedoms in Pakistan and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Pakistani journalist Khalil Malik, Mr. Simon said the Committee would be trying to figure out why Mr. Malik was killed and whether that had been directly related to his work as a journalist.


Ms. Wright added that, overall, steps taken towards removing some of the restrictive press laws in the country were a positive development for Pakistani journalists as a whole.


Though murder was the ultimate form of censorship against journalists, Mr. Simon said that many other methods of intimidation were often used.  Governments and authorities who practiced those methods did not necessarily show up on the Impunity Index. 


“Just because you’re not on this list doesn’t mean that we’re not watching and we’re not concerned,” he said, while calling for more concerted action overall to protect journalists from all forms of intimidation.


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For information media • not an official record