By Iakovos Iakovidis
On November 2, 2013, two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, died outside Kidal, in Northern Mali from the bullets of yet-to-be identified killers. Unfortunately, they were neither the first nor the last journalists who died while performing their duties and still await justice. Impunity rates remain extremely high, as over 680 murders of journalists in the past ten years alone are still resulting in complete impunity.
Impunity is among main factors behind the continuous killings of journalists worldwide. Since there are few chances for the perpetrators of getting caught, prosecuted and punished, the chances of journalists being targeted for murder increase. So, impunity seems to create a dynamic, a force towards more threats to lives of journalists and media personnel. In physics, a force is ‘any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object’. In other words, a force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity, i.e., to accelerate’. So the speed of the ultimate censorship of the press – forever silencing journalists – increases when impunity is unopposed. This could be manifested through Newton’s Second Law- namely, α=F/m. That is, the acceleration of murders (α) is the quotient of the fraction between the force of the number of impunity cases (F) to the mass of the cases solved (m).
However, there is a counterforce that, if directed the right way, can limit the effects of impunity: the reaction of the international community. When Ghislaine and Claude were kidnapped and killed, a negotiation was ongoing at the UNGA, on a draft resolution for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. Most member states were initially reluctant to debate a topic already being discussed in the Human Rights Council. There was a hidden fear that it would be impossible to strike a deal in the GA, since States around the globe perceive press freedom differently.
However, the murders in Northern Mali lifted all the reservations expressed at the beginning of the consultations, thus proving Cassandra wrong. Greece, along with Argentina, Austria, Tunisia and Costa Rica, and with the strong support of civil society organisations, managed to form a strong cross-regional group that led to the adoption, for the first time in over 40 years in the General Assembly, of Resolution 68/163. The Resolution endorsed the UNESCO Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and moreover, November 2nd, the day of the murder of the two French journalists was proclaimed International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, aimed at raising awareness on the dangers of impunity.
So, the answer to the “equation” outlined above depends on whether the counterforce will prove stronger than the force and create a dynamic towards securing a conducive environment for journalists to work without deadly consequences.
Iakovos Iakovidis is a Greek diplomat who has served in China and in the Permanent Missions of Greece to the EU and to the UN, where, among other, he initiated the discussion on the safety of journalists in the General Assembly, which led to the first ever UNGA Resolution on the topic”.