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Safety of journalists

IPDC plays an important role in monitoring the safety of journalists and in preventing the impunity of those who perpetrate crimes against them. Guaranteeing media professionals the right to work free from the threat of violence is essential for the full implementation of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. It is a duty of the State and of society to create and maintain the conditions needed for these fundamental human rights to be enjoyed by all.


UNESCO’s Director-General began condemning the killings of journalists in 1997, in line with Resolution 29 adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference which urges the competent authorities to discharge their duty of preventing, investigating and punishing crimes when these are perpetrated to prevent freedom of expression but also the right of other people to receive information, and remedying their consequences.

In 2006, the safety of journalists was the subject of a thematic debate conducted during the twenty fifth session of the Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC. Two years later, at its 26th session, the UNESCO Director-General presented the first report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity to the IPDC Intergovernmental Council as a follow-up to the thematic debate.

At this meeting, the Council adopted a Decision on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which gives to IPDC a central role in monitoring the follow-up of killings condemned by UNESCO’s Director-General. This Decision urges Member States “to comply with the relevant obligations under international law to end impunity” and “to inform the Director-General of UNESCO, on a voluntary basis, of the actions taken to prevent the impunity of the perpetrators and to notify him of the status of the judicial inquiries conducted on each of the killings condemned by UNESCO”.

Since then, every two years the Director-General of UNESCO submits to the IPDC Council a report on The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity as a monitoring tool for follow-up.

The continual killing of journalists is a disturbing reality

The Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity Report of the Director-General of UNESCO to the Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC was presented to the Council on its 29th session, held at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 20-21 November 2014. The Report provides an analysis of the killings of journalists as condemned by the Director-General of UNESCO between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2013 and provides background information on UNESCO’s work in this area.


The Report reveals that during this period, from 2006 to 2013, a total of 593 cases of killings of journalists (covering journalists, media workers, and social media producers who generate a significant amount of public interest journalism) had been documented and condemned by UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova. On average, one journalist was killed per week. ‘Traditional media’ were the most affected by fatal attacks, with print journalists constituting the largest number of these with 244 journalists killed (41%), followed by journalists working in television with 154 killed (26%) and radio journalists with 123 killed (21%). The vast majority of fatalities (94%) were local correspondents, and male journalists (94%). The Report also highlighted that women journalists nevertheless face specific risks at work including sexual attacks and harassment which are not reflected in the statistics of fatal attacks.


The Report additionally provided a cumulative update of the 593 killings of journalists between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2013, for which UNESCO’s Director-General requested respective Member States to voluntarily submit information on judicial follow-up. Shockingly, UNESCO received information about the resolution of just 39 cases, representing 6.6% of the total, while 172 cases (or 29%) were still ongoing various stages of judicial inquiry at the time of publication. In a statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stated that this situation “cannot go on” and encouraged all governments to “better show their commitment to justice for killed journalists by responding to requests to voluntarily report on what is happening with judicial follow-up”.


In 2010, the IPDC Council unanimously adopted the second Decision on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity reiterating its request for governments to report to the UNESCO Director-General on their investigations into the killings of journalists. This Decision also requests the General Conference of UNESCO to encourage news rooms around the world to observe one minute’s silence every year on World Press Freedom Day (3 May) to denounce the murders of journalists.


UNESCO is currently tasked with the overall leadership of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This UN Plan, endorsed in 2012 by the UN Chief Executives Board, seeks to reinforce the safety of journalists around the world and fight against the impunity of crimes committed against them.











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