General: No to impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in the Arab Region


On the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the International day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly at its sixty-eighth session held in 2013, and celebrated on 2 November, UNESCO Office in Beirut, Maharat Foundation, and the Gulf Center for Human Rights organized an event entitled: "No to impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in the Arab Region" on Wednesday 2 November 2016, at the UNESCO Regional Office in Bir Hassan.

The event featured press interviews and a photo exhibition to mark this day, highlighting some cases of murdered or kidnapped journalists in the past years in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

This activity aimed essentially to call different stakeholders once again to establish efficient mechanisms that would end impunity for crimes against journalists, particularly in the Arab States.

In his opening remarks, Communication and Information Programme Officer at UNESCO Beirut George Awad welcomed the participants, as he briefly explained about the background of this Day, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2013, to "condemn all crimes committed against journalists and media professionals and urge Member States to Member States to implement definite measures to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, and ensure the accountability of perpetrators and bring them to justice."

In his statement, Awad noted that, according to UNESCO, "in the last 10 years, more than 800 journalists, equivalent of one per week, were killed for simply doing their job and bringing news to the public”. UNESCO representative said that "what is worrying is the fact that less than one out of every ten cases led to actual judicial condemnation". Awad also stressed the message of UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on this day, which considered that impunity encourages perpetrators, leaving a negative impact on the whole society, including journalists, spreading fear and severely undermining freedom of expression through imposing self-censorship.

On this occasion, Bokova appealed “Member States to make every effort to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice, by developing and promoting the necessary laws and mechanisms compatible with international humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions". UNESCO Director General also called "media and civil society, police, and judicial institutions to strengthen efforts to prevent violence against journalists and prosecute the perpetrators”.

Also speaking in this event, Executive Director of Maharat Foundation, Roula Mikhayel, confirmed "that the Foundation decided to highlight the names of journalists who lost their lives because of their work, and the common thread among them is courage, as they could have left their countries”. Mikhayel said that "not encountering impunity would encourage more attacks on journalists and free speech, and is therefore an attack on the universally recognized right of freedom of expression and the right to access to information."

Mikhayel concluded that "justice must take its fair course, and we should not be afraid to point out to perpetrators. We hope through this activity today to urge concerned governments to consider these issues in the Arab region”.

Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for human rights, saw that most of the journalists who are subject to abuse and harassment and killing are fighting corruption. In his speech, Ibrahim stressed the safety measures that some journalists or media fail to follow. "Even in conflict zones, we are seeing some reporters and journalists doing their job in normal clothes. It’s the media institutions that bear the responsibility for this incomplete understanding of security and safety procedures". Ibrahim also asked media organizations to protect journalists who are working on corruption cases, adding that "numbers of journalists who may be killed in coming years will rise because of conflicts in the Arab States”.

Among the participants in this event, Angela Al-Alaiawi, wife of Ammar Al-Shabendar, former Director of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) in Iraq, who was killed in an explosion in Baghdad, on 2 May. Commenting on the current situation of impunity, Al-Alaiawi, who is active in several international organizations, stated that "there must be more action and not just talk," calling for greater cooperation between the various parties involved, namely governments, international organizations, civil society organizations and security services, since no party can achieve anything alone". Al-Alaiawi said that families of journalists who fell victims of these crimes need to be cared for, and that punishing those offenders is needed for the convenience of the whole society. "There are free criminals out there. Even today, I still feel unsafe. I feel threatened”, said Mrs Al-Alaiawi.

This event was also attended by Mr. Antoine Kassab, the father of journalist Samir Kassab, missing in Syria since October 2013, and one of the cases that were highlighted during this event. Mr. Kassab thanked the organizers for shedding the light on this issue, calling on "all parties involved for more cooperation and coordination to reach a conclusion in this case for the benefit of his son and his family."

On this occasion, UNESCO Office in Beirut, Maharat, the Gulf Center for Human Rights, expressed their deep concern over the increasing rate of crimes committed against journalists and media professionals, especially those working in war zones, while their perpetrators remain without any actual prosecution. The three organizing parties also called governments and other relevant actors to work strenuously in order to bring those who committed those crimes to justice. The three parties also demanded all partners concerned to provide all possible protection for journalists in Arab countries as well as in other countries to enable them to perform their job to the fullest.

Since 2006, 827 journalists and media professionals were killed just for doing their duty. Some of these cases received international attention, while others did not receive any. According to UNESCO’s report on Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity, out of the 680 crimes committed against journalists between 2006 and 2014, the authorities worldwide managed to reach the offender in only 6 percent of those cases.

Arabic countries remain one of the most dangerous places to work for journalists.

During the past two years, 78 journalists and media workers were killed in the Arab region, equaling more than 36 percent of the total crimes worldwide. The most dangerous States to work for journalists are ones that are going through conflict, namely Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

Killers of those journalists are still free, while others remain totally unknown.