Somalia, Iraq and Syria lead the world in the killing of journalists by Islamic extremists who get away with their crimes, but militants also continue to target the media with impunity in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Pakistan, according to the latest report from the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group based in New York. These murderers rarely or never face justice.
The report, “Getting Away With Murder: CPJ’s 2016 Global Impunity Index,” published on Oct. 27, covers 13 countries that together total 80 percent of the unsolved murders that took place worldwide in the 10-year period ending on Aug. 31. Governments and militaries are also to blame in many cases, the report said.
“In the past decade political groups, including Islamic State and other extremist organizations, are the suspected perpetrators in more than 40 percent of murder cases. Government and military officials are considered the leading suspects in nearly a quarter of the cases in the same period,” the report found.
The 2016 impunity report also points to a less widely recognized trend revealed in the index. Where abusive governments have been replaced in democratic elections, killing with impunity can be sharply reduced.
Sri Lanka is an example. There, a vicious civil war between Tamil insurgents and the ethnic Sinhalese-led government ended in 2009 but attacks on journalists continued under the victorious Sinhalese president, who had another five years in office after the war ended. Under a new president from the political opposition, Maithripala Sirisena, who was elected in 2015 with more than 80 percent of the vote, the end of impunity has been a government goal. A few murders from earlier years, however, remain unresolved.
“Sri Lanka, where violence against journalists has receded since the end of a decades-long civil war, dropped off the list for the first time since CPJ began calculating the index in 2008,” the report said. Iraq and Russia are still on the impunity list, with numerous unsolved murders but are showing improvement.
Countries where situations have worsened the most, according to the 2016 index, are Brazil, India and Syria. In these cases war, political disruptions, criminal gangs or ethnic and religious tensions have created or added to threats against journalists. In most incidents, local reporters, broadcasters and bloggers are targets. The full report, with country-by-country findings, is available in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.
In a separate report on rising threats to journalists in Venezuela, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that the government, besieged by protests, has not only tried to stop media from doing their jobs but has also barred foreign journalists from reporting on the country’s deepening political crisis. Protestors have been demanding that the government of President Nicolás Maduro allow a referendum on calls to remove him from office. Reporters have been hit by rocks, fired at with birdshot and detained by the police, according to reports the Committee to Protect Journalists have collected from media across Venezuela.
“The deepening political crisis in Venezuela is an issue of national and international interest, and as such journalists should be able to cover the story with government protection, not with harassment and interference by the government or any other group,” said Carlos Lauría, CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas, in a statement from New York. Once again, political turbulence has opened the way for abuses by a government.
Venezuelan immigration officials have also stopped correspondents from entering the country, including a four-person Peruvian television team working for a Mexican network who were denied entry at the Caracas airport. An American, Matt Gutman of ABC News, was detained for two days while reporting on deteriorating conditions in a hospital in the city of Valencia, the report said, adding that foreign correspondents are often denied credentials to work in the country when their required applications are not answered by communications authorities.
Unesco, the United Nations agency charged with promoting and protecting freedom of expression, has also been tracking killings of journalists, most recently reporting the deaths in Iraq of two television staff members for separate local channels, a reporter and a cameraman working in Kirkuk and Mosul, respectively.
Irina Bokova, the director-general of Unesco, said that the agency was “deeply concerned” by the number of journalists being killed in Iraq, where a major government assault supported by the United States is underway against the Islamic State around Mosul.
“I call on all parties to respect the civilian status of reporters in times of conflict, as required by the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols,” she said in a statement. “Media workers must not be targeted under any circumstances.”
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, released a statement on Nov. 2, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, saying: “Attacks on journalists violate the human rights of individuals and undermine freedom of information and expression across societies. Impunity, which makes this terrible situation worse, is rampant. Of the 827 documented killings of journalists over the past decade, the information at hand shows that only 8 percent of perpetrators were held to account.”
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Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.