On Occasion of the International Day to End Impunity
Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists: 44 media practitioners killed and 40 kidnapped in the Arab world since the beginning of 2015.
- “ISIS” tops the list of intentional killing of journalists with responsibility for 54.5% of killings
- In 43% of cases the identity of the killer is still unknown
- 26 journalists were killed in Iraq, 7 in Syria, 6 in Libya and 5 in Yemen
In 2015 Forty-four media practitioners were killed in the line of duty throughout the Arab world. Of those killed, 34 were intentionally targeted while an additional 40 journalists were kidnapped or forced into hiding. According to all available information, those responsible for these crimes have escaped accountability and punishment.
The Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) has released a “position paper” on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists which occurs annually on the 2nd of November. In the paper, the CDFJ announced that 227 media practitioners have been killed in the line of duty since 2012, while 207 have been kidnapped and 118 have faced assassination attempts.
The Center called on the United Nations to take all necessary measures and actions to prevent impunity for killers of journalists and the recording of crimes against journalists in the name an unknown assailant. The Center also called for investigative committees to bring perpetrators to justice, particularly in conflict areas.
The position paper prepared by the CDFJ highlights alarming attacks on media workers including killings. Moreover, the paper lists gross violations on personal freedom and safety committed against journalists who were kidnapped or forced into hiding in armed conflict areas.
The Center also warned of further targeted killings of journalists given that the current statistics indicate an increase in the number of journalists killed. The increase is particularly noticeable in those Arab countries experiencing armed conflict such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. Region wide, 69 journalists were killed in 2012, 57 in 2013 and 53 in 2014. Through October of this year 44 journalists have been killed in the line of duty.
The Center reminded readers that when perpetrators of crimes against journalists escape accountability and justice, the result is the perpetuation of such crimes in the best case scenario and their proliferation in the worst.
The paper recommends promoting a culture of holding perpetrators accountable and documenting their crimes while reminding readers that the killing and kidnapping of journalists in war zones are considered war crimes.
Indeed the kidnapping of journalists is often no less dangerous than killing them. For example, ISIS has routinely executed prisoners in Iraq and Syria following a mock trial.
Researchers at the CDFJ point out that the kidnapping of journalists by groups such as ISIS has a drastic impact on others working in the media because these kidnappings almost always result in the killing of the individuals. All 23 journalists killed by ISIS in Iraq were put to death following their being kidnapped and detained.
The Center called for the documentation of crimes committed against journalists and their submission to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2222 regarding the safety and security of journalists. Resolution 2222 urges all states to take appropriate steps to ensure that perpetrators of crimes against journalists, media workers and individuals associated with them are held accountable, particularly in conflict zones.
The CDFJ supports the call of Reporters without Borders for the creation of a Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for the Safety of Journalists.
As the Center also welcomed the statement delivered by UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova in which she called for the full application of the principle of the rule of law in all cases related to violations against the media or the killing of journalists.
According to the CDFJ’s Sanad project, responsible for documenting violations committed against journalists in the Arab world, the most dangerous crimes committed against journalists are targeted killing, kidnapping and those that force journalists into hiding.
Despite the reports and statistics on targeted killings, kidnappings and journalists forced into hiding published by the CDFJ and other organizations committed to defending freedom of the media and expression, the United Nations and other international organizations continue to face difficulty in tracking down the perpetrators of these crimes and bringing them to justice.
The Center’s position paper contains detailed breakdowns of the types of crimes committed against journalists. The information comes from Sanad’s monitoring and research project which has been operational since the beginning of 2015. Moreover, the paper lists those perpetrators who have thus far escaped with impunity.
The CDFJ agrees with section 1.5 of the UN Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity that “the problem of impunity is not restricted to the failure to investigate the murders of journalists and media workers, the curtailment of their expression deprives society as a whole of their journalistic contribution and results in a wider impact on press freedom where a climate of intimidation and violence leads to self-censorship. In such a climate societies suffer because they lack the information needed to fully realize their potential.”
The UN Action continues in section 1.16 “while investigating crimes against journalists remains the responsibility of Member States, the acts of violence and intimidation (including murder, abduction, hostage taking harassment, intimidation and illegal arrest and detention) are becoming ever more frequent in a variety of contexts. Notably, the threat posed by non-state actors such as terrorist organizations and criminal enterprises is growing.”
According to the statistics and indicators in CDFJ’s paper, ISIS and the Houthis of Yemen were responsible for the majority—if not all—of journalists killed or kidnapped in conflict zones in 2015.
It is the CDFJ’s opinion that in cases where armed groups commit violations against journalists in war zones—whether those armed groups are in opposition or support of the government—the state remains responsible for the safety of journalists.
Researchers face a number of difficulties in determining the responsible party when journalists are killed while covering clashes of armed groups. These challenges include the inherent difficulty in conducting independent, objective investigations and attempts by armed groups to conceal evidence.
Researchers also face difficulties in determining the identity of perpetrators in premeditated killings. For example, in Libya 6 journalists were killed in one day and the local authorities were unable to determine the responsible party. While independent statements claimed that ISIS was responsible these claims are not considered substantiated evidence proving the identity of the perpetrator. In cases such as these the perpetrator is registered as “unidentifiable.”
Journalists in Yemen and Iraq have also faced assassination and kidnapping by armed groups. However, in many cases it is difficult to determine the identity of these groups, increasing their ability to escape accountability.
CDFJ researchers point out that identifying the identity of perpetrators, especially in conflict zones, remains extremely difficult for the following reasons:
- Authorities and security apparatuses in countries experiencing armed conflict often adopt a policy of “denial” when faced with accusations of killing journalists covering the confrontations.
- The absence of independent and neutral organizations capable of observing and documenting cases of journalist killings or attempted assassinations based on criteria adopted by the United Nations.
- Lack of investigative committees specialized in documenting the killing of journalists.
- Difficulty reaching and operating in conflict zones.
- Lack of disclosure of relevant information and documents relevant to cases involving the killing or attempted assassination of journalists.
Killers of Journalists 2015
The CDFJ has documented the killings of 44 journalists in 2015 through the month of October. Of those who lost their lives 25 were the victims of premeditated murder while 19 others were killed while covering events in the field in cases categorized as “manslaughter.”
More journalists were killed in Iraq than in any other country with 26 journalists killed in the line of duty. Of these 23 were the victims of targeted attacks while 2 others lost their lives covering armed clashes between the Iraqi Armed Forces and ISIS and 1 other was the victim of an organized assassination.
In Syria, 7 journalists lost their lives as a result of their media work, including the Japanese journalist Kenji Goto who was kidnapped and put to death by ISIS. The terrorist group later released a video of Goto’s execution by man wielding a knife. Additionally, 5 journalists were killed in Syria while covering confrontations between regime and opposition forces. In most cases the cause of death remains unknown. Most recently, the director of Sham FM radio station, Widah Yusuf, was killed by security forces in Latakia. Yusuf’s murder has been linked to his coverage of protests following an incident in which Sleiman al-Assad—the cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad—was accused of murdering a Syrian Air Force Colonel following a traffic dispute. Sleiman al-Assad escaped with impunity.
In Yemen, 5 journalists have been killed in 2015 while covering the ongoing conflict there. Three of those killed lost their lives while covering clashes between different armed groups and the aerial bombing coalition led by Saudi Arabia. Two other journalists, Abdullah Qabil and Yusuf al-Aizi were killed as a result of coalition airstrikes following their being kidnapped by the armed Houthi militia. Qabil and Aizi, correspondents for the Shabab and Suheil television station based in Dhamar province, were kidnapped by the Houthi militia due to their coverage of a media event. The journalists were then confined in the Earthquake Monitoring Center located at Mount Huron, an area which was regularly targeted by coalition strikes. The Journalists Union in Yemen has decried the actions of the Houthis, denouncing their use of journalists as human shields.
It is important to note that in the cases of 19 of the 44 journalists killed in 2015 (43%), the identity of the killers have yet to be identified. It is incumbent upon the international community and the security council to undertake necessary action to insure killers of journalists are brought to justice.
Kidnapping of Journalists
CDFJ statistics indicate that 40 journalists and media workers have been kidnapped in 2015. Of those kidnapped 26 were later put to death by their kidnappers while 2 others lost their lives while being detained in a dangerous area.
Yemen witnessed by far the most kidnappings with 33 journalists and media workers captured and detained by armed groups. The armed Houthi militia kidnapped 30 journalists due to their affiliation with media institutions denounced by the group. Recently al-Qaeda in Yemen kidnapped 3 journalists whose fate is not yet known.
In Iraq 5 journalists were kidnapped in 2015 by ISIS, all of whom were later executed by the group.
At least one journalist was kidnapped and later killed by an unknown assailant in Syria.
In the Gaza Strip a journalist was kidnapped by an unknown group. Although the individual was later released researchers have not been able to identify the perpetrators.
Indicators show that the Houthis of Yemen were responsible for nearly 75% of all kidnapping of journalists in 2015.