A mural commemorating journalists killed in Afghanistan
A mural painted on a blast wall in downtown Kabul in 2016 commemorates the 35 journalists killed in Afghanistan since 2001.
Photo:UNAMA / Fardin Waezi

Countering threats of violence and crimes against journalists to protect freedom of expression for all

Ending impunity for crimes against journalists is one of the most pressing issues to guarantee freedom of expression and access to information for all citizens. Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 journalists have been killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public. In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished, according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists. Impunity leads to more killings and is often a symptom of worsening conflict and the breakdown of law and judicial systems. 

While killings are the most extreme form of media censorship, journalists are also subjected to countless threats - ranging from kidnapping, torture and other physical attacks to harassment, particularly in the digital sphere. Threats of violence and attacks against journalists in particular create a climate of fear for media professionals, impeding the free circulation of information, opinions and ideas for all citizens. Women journalists are particularly impacted by threats and attacks, notably by those made online. According to UNESCO’s recent discussion paper, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists, 73 percent of the women journalists surveyed said they had been threatened, intimidated and insulted online in connection with their work.

In many cases, threats of violence and attacks against journalists are not properly investigated. This impunity emboldens the perpetrators of the crimes and at the same time has a chilling effect on society, including journalists themselves. UNESCO is concerned that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime. Read and share the stories of killed journalists #TruthNeverDies.

On the other hand, justice systems that vigorously investigate all threats of violence against journalists send a powerful message that society will not tolerate attacks against journalists and against the right to freedom of expression for all.

The 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists highlights the instrumental role of prosecutorial services, in investigating and prosecuting not only killings but also threats of violence against journalists.

Commemorations in 2021 will also pave the way for the 10-year anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to be marked in 2022.

Events

The main event to celebrate the 2021 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists will be a hybrid format high-level roundtable discussion, organized by Ossigeno per l’informazione and supported by UNESCO, on 3 November 2021 at the Syracuse International Institute for Criminal Justice and Human Rights in Syracuse, Italy. The event will provide a platform for dialogue among prosecutors and journalists on prevention and protection measures to address the safety of journalists, and it will highlight the instrumental role of prosecutorial services in investigating and prosecuting not only killings, but also threats of violence against journalists.

See other events around the world.

UNESCO poster

Background

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.

This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.

Did you know?

  • In the past decade, a journalist has been killed on average every four days.
  • The year 2019 shows the lowest death toll recorded by UNESCO in the last decade with 57 deaths.
  • In 2019, the highest number of fatal attacks occurred in the Latin America and the Caribbean region, representing 40% of the total killings registered worldwide, followed by the Asia and the Pacific region with 26% of killings.
  • Most journalists were killed in countries with no armed conflict.

Source: UNESCO 2020

Journalists who ‘speak truth to power’ recognized with Nobel Peace Prize

Dmitry Muratov and Maria Messa

Russia’s Dmitry Muratov, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta newspaper and from the Philippines, Maria Ressa, Chief Executive and cofounder of online news outlet Rappler, were named as the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureates. “No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power”, the UN chief said in his message congratulating the winners.

Resources

Documents

hands holding book and journalist with gas mask

As the United Nations agency with a specific mandate to promote “the free flow of ideas by word and image”, UNESCO works to foster free, independent and pluralistic media in print, broadcast and online. Media development in this mode enhances freedom of expression, and it contributes to peace, sustainability, poverty eradication and human rights

journalists in danger

The UNESCO Director-General’s Report is a unique mechanism within the UN system for monitoring the killings of journalists. It was first published in 2008. The report is submitted every two years to the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

 

illustration of people with clock, calendar, to-do list and decorations

International days and weeks are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool. We also mark other UN observances.