Amid spiraling violence and attacks on the press, states must urgently uphold their commitments and obligations to protect the safety of journalists – including in conflict zones – and take concrete action to end impunity for these crimes, the International Press Institute (IPI) said to mark International Day to End Impunity on November 2, 2023.
Over the past three decades, a staggering 1600 journalists have been killed in the course of carrying out their work, making journalism one of the world’s most dangerous professions. In only a tiny fraction of cases – just one in ten, by UNESCO estimates – do those responsible for these crimes face justice.
These statistics highlight the alarming failure of states to uphold and enforce obligations under international law and other agreements to ensure that journalists are able to carry out their work freely and safely, and that crimes against the press are fully investigated and prosecuted.
We reiterate that states have a duty under international law to investigate attacks on journalists promptly, thoroughly, and independently, and to prosecute those responsible. This obligation is well established in international and regional human rights instruments, as well as in numerous UN protocols and resolutions, requiring states to provide effective remedy for human rights abuses.
A year ago, in November 2022, representatives of U.N. member states convened in Vienna to publicly reaffirm their commitments to protect journalists’ safety and pledged to take concrete steps to tackle impunity for crimes against the press. The meeting marked the 10-year anniversary of the U.N. Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity – an agreement made by states, at the urging of civil society, to develop a coordinated framework for addressing threats faced by journalists.
A year later, these pledges have produced no demonstrable action or change, while the situation for so many journalists around the world has become even more dire. Rates of impunity remain unacceptably high, as attacks, violence, and threats against the press are increasing.
As war and armed conflict rage in many parts of the world – including Gaza, Ukraine, Haiti, Ethiopia, the Sahel, and Yemen – we also emphasize that the state obligation to investigate crimes against journalists does not disappear in a conflict zone. On the contrary, authorities are legally bound under international law and international humanitarian law to ensure the safety of journalists and media workers in situations of armed conflict. A deliberate attack on a journalist during a situation of armed conflict constitutes a war crime – and must be investigated as such.
No or insufficient progress in 11 key cases
In 2022, IPI marked International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists by highlighting 11 cases of journalists who have been killed or have disappeared over the last decade, with little accountability by authorities.
These cases were chosen to illustrate how rare it is for states to even investigate the killings of journalists – and investigations that do start often then stall or lack the necessary independence and transparency. Prosecutions are even rarer. Trials are often onerous and exceptionally slow, sometimes taking years. Those who are prosecuted are usually the hired killers, while those ultimately responsible for planning and orchestrating these crimes too often elude justice.
While police and law enforcement authorities in some countries may benefit from technical capacity and investigative support, the primary obstacle to justice in journalist killings is often a lack of political will. Often this is because the truth that would emerge from a full and transparent investigation would implicate those in power, threaten the vested political or economic interests, or bring down corrupted systems
No progress has been made in the six of the 11 cases we highlighted in 2022. This includes the case of IPI World Press Freedom Hero Shireen Abu Akleh, the renowned Al Jazeera correspondent shot and killed during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank in 2022; Shan Dahar, a Pakistani journalist shot in the back and killed in 2014 after reporting on the unauthorized sale of medicines; Ahmed Hussein-Suale, an investigative journalist killed in Ghana in 2019 after helping to reveal corruption in African football; Jamal Khashoggi, murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on the orders of high-level Saudi officials in 2018; Ibraimo Mbaruco, reporter for Rádio Comunitária de Palma, who disappeared in April 2020 while covering the conflict in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique; and Regina Martinez Perez, a respected Mexican crime reporter strangled to death in her home in 2012.
Progress has been stalled or is otherwise insufficient progress in the remaining five cases: the case of Christopher Allen, a British-American freelancer killed in South Sudan in 2017; Daphne Caruana Galizia, a prominent investigative journalist and blogger who often reported on high-level corruption, who was killed by a car bomb near her home in Malta in 2017; Giorgos Karaivaz, a Greek crime reporter killed in Athens in 2021; Ján Kuciak, an investigative journalist covering corruption and tax fraud who was killed outside Bratislava, Slovakia in 2018; and Gauri Lankesh, an Indian journalist and editor who was shot dead in Bangalore in 2017.
These cases are further detailed below.
No progress has been made on the following cases
Shireen Abu Akleh – Killed in Palestine in 2022
Israel has refused to launch an investigation into the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, despite admitting that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh had been “accidentally” hit by Israeli gunfire. In May 2022, the renowned journalist was shot dead by Israeli forces while reporting in the West Bank. Since then, the Israeli government has been shifting blame and avoiding accountability, despite continuous calls from the international community to fully investigate the journalist’s killing and prosecute those responsible.
In December 2022, Al Jazeera, together with IPI and other stakeholders, submitted a formal request to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killing of Abu Akleh. To date, the ICC has yet to decide whether to open a formal investigation. In October 2023, an investigative body under U.N. mandate concluded that Israeli forces used “lethal force without justification” when they shot and killed Abu Akleh, violating her “right to life.”
Shan Dahar – Pakistan | Murdered in 2014
Authorities have yet to open a proper investigation into the killing of Shan Dahar, bureau chief for Abb Takk Television channel in Pakistan. Dahar was working on a report relating to unauthorized sale of medicines when was shot dead on January 1, 2014. Authorities initially claimed Dahar’s killing was the result of stray gunfire, even though the journalist’s family and colleagues believe he was targeted due to his work. To this date, the perpetrators have not been identified and held to account.
Ahmed Hussein-Suale – Ghana | Murdered in 2019
No progress has been made in bringing those who murdered Ahmed Hussein-Suale to justice. An investigative journalist covering corruption and human rights abuses in Africa, Hussein-Suale was shot dead in January 2019, in Accra, Ghana. At the time, he was part of an investigation team with the Tiger Eye news outlet that revealed corruption in African football right before the World Cup.
Four years since his murder, authorities have made no progress in this investigation and have provided little information to the journalist’s family, who have also faced threats. However, his case is often at the center of political debates, including during the ongoing presidential campaign in Ghana, in which candidates on both sides have used his case as a campaign tool.
Jamal Khashoggi – Murdered in Turkey in 2018
Investigations by the U.N. and U.S. have found that the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi was orchestrated by high-level Saudi officials, including the crown prince. Yet five years since his brutal murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, there has yet to be any real accountability for this crime.
In 2020, a Saudi court convicted a group of individuals for this murder in a closed trial that did not meet fair trial standards and failed to hold the masterminds to account. In 2022, Turkey transferred its proceedings in the case to Saudi Arabia, further closing the door to justice.
In December 2022, a U.S. district judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the fiancé of Khashoggi and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), which sought unspecified punitive and compensatory damages under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act. Weeks earlier, the crown prince was named prime minister, and the Biden administration subsequently announced that Bin Salman has immunity under international law from the civil lawsuit as Saudi Arabia’s “sitting head of government”.
Ibraimo Mbaruco – Mozambique | Disappeared in 2020
Authorities have yet to provide any information about Ibraimo Mbaruco, a reporter for Rádio Comunitária de Palma, who disappeared in April 2020 while covering the conflict in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. To this date, Mozambican authorities have provided no information about his disappearance, including whether there has even been an investigation.
Regina Martínez Pérez – Mexico | Murdered in 2012
No progress has been made toward securing justice for the brutal 2012 killing of Regina Martínez Pérez, a crime reporter for the national magazine Proceso, who often reported on drug cartels. Martínez was strangled to death after being beaten inside her home in Veracruz. The original investigation was marked by numerous irregularities. Authorities claimed Martínez was the victim of a robbery. While a potential suspect confessed to the crime, he later retracted this statement saying it was coerced. Ten years after her murder, the authorities have failed to reopen the case.
Stalled or insufficient progress
Christopher Allen – Killed in South Sudan in 2017
Minor but insufficient progress has been made in the case of Christopher Allen, the British-American freelance journalist and photographer who was killed in August 2017 during armed clashes in South Sudan while he was embedded with rebel troops.
In August 2023, the United States and the United Kingdom called on the South Sudanese government to open a thorough investigation into Allen’s killing. After years of pressure from Allen’s family and the international community, the South Sudanese government finally announced this October that it had formed a special committee to investigate Allen’s death. However, a report or information summarizing the results of this investigation has yet to be released.
Daphne Caruana Galizia – Malta | Murdered in 2017
Full justice has yet to be achieved for the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, investigative journalist and blogger who often reported on high-level corruption. Galizia was killed by a car bomb near her home in Malta on October 16, 2017.
In October 2022, five years after her assassination, two hitmen brothers pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to 40 years in prison. The middleman has also been convicted. Three other suspects await trial, including the alleged mastermind, Yorgan Fennech, a politically-connected businessman. A public trial is expected early next year. After a sustained international campaign organized and driven by the journalist’s family, the government finally agreed to launch a public inquiry into the killing, which ultimately blamed the Maltese state for creating the climate of impunity in which the killing was carried out. The fight to ensure the recommendations for systemic reform to the Maltese landscape for press freedom and the rule of law continues
Giorgos Karaivaz – Greece | Murdered in 2021
The arrest of two suspects in April 2023 was a limited but positive step forward in securing justice for the 2021 killing of Greek journalist Giorgos Karaivaz. Karaivaz, who often reported on the nexus between police and organized crime for the TV channel STAR, was gunned down in broad daylight outside his home in an Athens suburb by two people riding a moped . Police said that the professional style of the hit indicated the involvement of organized crime. Despite these arrests, those responsible have not yet stood trial, there have been no convictions, and no additional progress has been made since, including in identifying possible middlemen or masterminds behind this killing.
Ján Kuciak – Slovakia | Murdered in 2018
In a shocking and disappointing turn of events, businessman Marian Kočner, the alleged mastermind behind the brutal killing of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak was acquitted again in May 2023. Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová were shot dead in their home outside Bratislava on February 21, 2018. Kuciak was an investigative journalist covering corruption and tax fraud involving prominent business and political figures. The judges did convict Alena Zsuzsová, a close associate of Kočner, of ordering the hit and sentenced her to 25 years in prison. However, Kuciak’s family and most observers consider it highly unlikely that Zsuzsova acted alone, meaning that the ultimate mastermind continues to evade accountability.
Gauri Lankesh – India | Murdered in 2017
Onerous trial proceedings have hampered justice for the killing of Gauri Lankesh, a journalist and editor critical of Hindu nationalism and far-right politics in India. Lankesh was shot dead outside her home in Bangalore on September 5, 2017. After years of stalled proceedings, a trial began in July 2022, but the case has languished in the courts. Only 80 witnesses of a total of 530 have been deposed. The case is expected to drag on for several more years, delaying justice for Lankesh, her family and colleagues even further. Activists have called for a special fast track court to conduct proceedings on a daily basis.