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Impunity in journalist killings remains the norm, report says

WASHINGTON — Ten years have passed since the United Nations declared an international day to end impunity for crimes against journalists. But in that time, nearly 80% of journalist killings around the world remain unsolved, according to a new report.

Between September 2013 — the year the U.N. declared November 2 the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists — and August 2023, 261 journalists were killed over their work.

Of those killings, no one has been held accountable in 204 cases, or more than 78%, the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, said in its annual Global Impunity Index.

“Impunity in the murder of journalists continues to be an entrenched challenge, and that is primarily because there is a lack of political will at the local level. Investigations are either nonexistent or inadequate,” said Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, CPJ’s advocacy and communications director.

The index, released Tuesday, tracks unsolved journalist killings. The report includes countries with at least five unsolved murders during the past 10 years.

“Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. Swift, transparent, independent local investigations are critical, and political will can change the course of justice to stem the pervasive impunity in cases of journalists killed for their work,” CPJ president Jodie Ginsberg said in a statement.

Haiti’s ongoing security crisis means the country now ranks among the world’s worst in terms of impunity in the killings of journalists. CPJ included Haiti on the index for the first time this year, ranking the island nation third on the list. Six journalists have been killed in Haiti since 2019, CPJ said.

“The reason Haiti has now landed on the index for the first time, and in third place, is primarily because of the general lawlessness that’s taking place there. It’s not new that journalists are getting killed in Haiti,” Guillén Kaiser told VOA from New York. “But primarily, they have no one to resort to, just like the general population.”

Haiti’s Washington Embassy did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

The index’s release comes at a particularly deadly time for journalists in the Middle East, where at least 31 journalists have been killed in the ongoing war between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

Those deaths, however, were not included in the CPJ index because they fall outside CPJ’s reporting period of September 2013 to August 2023.

Syria, which has been on the index for a decade, reached number one this year as the country with the worst impunity record in the world. Over the past decade, 14 journalists have been killed with impunity in Syria, according to CPJ.

CPJ calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population and counts killings for which no convictions have been secured.

The consequences of impunity in journalist killings are bifold, Guillén Kaiser said. When journalists are killed and no one is held accountable, other journalists may become scared to do their jobs or self-censor, whereas would-be perpetrators may become emboldened, she added.

“It is a chilling effect, but it is also an empowering effect,” she said.

“The road to justice can be long and tortuous — and for the vast majority of murdered journalists, it never comes at all,” the report said.

Meanwhile, Somalia was also included on the index for the 16th year. After eight years in the worst ranking, Somalia dropped to No. 2 this year as the second-worst offender, with 11 reporters killed over the past decade.

Guillén Kaiser pointed to ongoing insecurity in Somalia, largely caused by the militant group al-Shabab, to explain Somalia’s continued presence on the index.

Somalia’s Washington Embassy did not reply to VOA’s email requesting comment.

Other countries on the index include South Sudan, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

But impunity can’t be chalked up to a country’s instability, Guillén Kaiser said, pointing to relatively stable democracies like Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil and India, which are also on the index.

“These are places that could really decide to make a difference,” Guillén Kaiser said. “And the fact that they’re not doing so conveys the same message, which is that journalists are fair game.”

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