Headline News Special Report

Nov. 2: Ending impunity for crimes against journalists

Nigerian journalists

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?

  • Killings of journalists have decreased by 20% in 2016-2020 compared to the previous 5-year period (2011-2015).
  • Data collected in 2021 shows the impunity rate continuing at 87%, which represents a similarly high rate to previous years.
  • Out of 139 journalists killed in 2011-2020 in the four countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with the highest numbers of killings, 41% of them had received threats prior to their assassination, according to a recent study developed by Reporters Without Borders with the support of UNESCO.
  • The majority of killed journalists are killed in their country of nationality. Among the 400 journalists killed from 2016 to 2020, 22 (6%) were foreigners.

Source: UNESCO 2021

In Nigeria:

  • Since 1997, records show over 179 cases of violence against journalists and media workers resulting in 78 fatalities;
  • By prevalence, Lagos led with 21 instances of violence against journalists and media workers, while Kogi had the lowest prevalence- 4;
  • The Federal Capital Territory accounted for the highest fatalities (43), with Kaduna and Kogi following;
  • Of the 179 instances, the Nigerian Police (26) and Military (10) contributed to the violence against journalists;

ARTICLE 19 showed the key findings of the 51 crimes against 60 journalists in Nigeria documented from January to October 2020:

  • Three journalists have been killed: one by security forces during a protest in Abuja and two by unknown persons in Adamawa and Nasarawa states.
  • 34 journalists have been victims of assaults, including two female journalists. The assaults took place in across the country, including in Lagos, Ondo, Osun, Abia, Anambra, Bauchi, Edo and Rivers states and in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
  • 18 of these were assaulted for covering the nationwide #ENDSARS protests against police brutality in October 2020. In ten cases, a member of the national police force was the perpetrator.
  • 12 journalists have been arrested. Half of them were released after a few days, but six were charged in court, mostly under the Terrorism or Cybercrime act.
  • Three journalists were denied access to perform their work.
  • Three media outlets have been attacked.
  • Four media outlets were fined for their coverage.

Assailants such as the extremist group Boko Haram and bandits perpetrated most of these crimes. But the involvement of law enforcement and military in the very crimes they are to police is inexcusable and troubling.

in 2020, the EndSARS demonstrations decried against documented cases of torture, extortion and murder from Nigerian law enforcement.

But even more worrisome is the manner with which the government address these issues.

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. 

According to the UN, 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.

Editing by Tina Oyinsan