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  • Emma Louise Alvarez

The Silencing of Dissent & the Goal to End Impunity

© Illustration by INJECTION - Emma Louise Alvarez

The 2nd of November is the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists - here’s what you need to know.

The imprisonment of the now-released Loujain al-Hathloul, the detainment of Alexei Navalny and the ongoing investigation into the death of Jamal Khashoggi are all testament to the ongoing repression of dissent.

These are the names we know due to the wide coverage they received.

But according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, over 1,200 journalists have been killed between 2006 and 2021, with close to 9 out of 10 cases of these killings remaining judicially unresolved.

The International Day to End Impunity aims to bring attention to this and started with Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon. Dupont and Verlon, two journalists from Radio France International (RFI), were kidnapped and killed On November 2nd, 2013, in Mali. There is yet for someone to be held responsible for their murders.

The silencing of dissent is a threat to democracy and UNESCO calls on governments, civil society, the media, and anyone concerned to uphold the rule of law, to join the global efforts to end impunity.

In the guidelines published by the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, “impunity is caused or facilitated notably by the lack of diligent reaction of institutions or state agents to serious human rights violations.” It is the responsibility of these state institutions to seek justice and combat impunity, ensuring the perpetrators are held accountable to the fullest extent of judicial law.

On the 2nd of November, an open hearing will be held in The Hague, where Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancé, is among those who will testify against the attacks on journalists around the world. While a Saudi Court has convicted five people to death for the muder of Khashoggi, in 2017 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told an aide that he would “use a bullet” on Jamal Khashoggi if the journalist continued to voice his criticism of the Saudi government. It is abundantly clear that a genuine accountability is yet to be achieved.

Khashoggi’s case will not be the only one investigated, where the People’s Tribunal will urge the governments of Sri Lanka, Syria and Mexico to deliver justice to the families of journalists Lasantha Wickrematunge, Nabil Al-Sharbaji and Miguel Ángel López Velasco.

Wickrematunge was a senior journalist and The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha when he was beaten to death in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where, to date, no one has been convicted for his murder. Al-Sharbaji was a Syrian journalist and peaceful activist when he was arrested in 2012, and eventually killed in detention in 2015. Velasco was a Mexican journalist for the Notiver newspaper and was murdered in 2011, alongside his wife and son.

There are 1,196 other cases with similar stories.

Daphne Caruana Galizia is another of those names. Galizia was a Maltese writer, journalist and anti-corruption activist; she was killed in October 2017 by a car bomb. At the time Galizia was investigating a controversial power station deal of which businessman Yorgen Fenech was a main shareholder. Fenech, while arrested in 2019, only now faces court and has denied involvement and pleaded not guilty to all charges. In a public inquiry report released earlier this year, it was found that the Maltese state was responsible for creating a “climate of impunity” that allowed Galizia to be killed.

It is these different climates of impunity that exist within different democracies over the world that have to be eradicated.

© Illustration by INJECTION - Matthew Rawlinson

The crimes against journalists around the world violate several of the basic human rights, as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Basic human rights number nine: ‘no unfair detainment.’ Number ten: ‘a right to trial.’ Number nineteen: ‘freedom of opinion and expression.’ Number twentynine: ‘subject to law.’ And the last basic human right listed, is that ‘human rights cannot be taken away.’ But what happens when they are?

Christophe Deloire, the director general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), comments that “some may think that journalists are just the victims of the risks of their profession, but journalists are increasingly targeted when they investigate or cover sensitive subjects. What is being attacked is the right to be informed, which is everyone’s right.”

The threat to democracy is this: if the right to stay informed is taken away, then the right to freedom of opinion and expression is unfairly inhibited. Democracy, in a literal sense, means ruled by the people, and the people can only make an informed choice if they are - well - informed. So the importance of a free and contentious press is crucial to maintain a level of information so that political (and other) choices can be made. In a democracy, the free press can be left , right or centrist; it can criticize the government, it can publish public information on ongoing investigations (police) or outcomes of trials, investigations into corruption and crime. So when a member of the free press is silenced, it can be related to how the ruling party or leader or royalty feels threatened by publications that are bringing out truths that are inconvenient.

But it is exactly these inconvenient truths that a free press should be publishing.

When it becomes apparent that murders of journalists are met with impunity, it gives at least two clear answers to questions that may be asked: one is that impunity is sanctioned by the powers that be, and second: that other journalists are scared into either silence or are forced to leave the country and publish from elsewhere. With all the risks that these journalists will still be killed if their publications are “inconvenient.”

If the means of contestation by political minorities continues to be denied, democracy cannot function effectively. It is a combination of politicized courts and intolerance for dissent that demonstrates how countries fail to live up to democratic standards. However, why does it matter if the future of democracy itself is so unstable and uncertain? Because the truth matters. But dealing in truth is obviously a dangerous matter - and one person’s truth can be another person’s half truth.

In the guidelines on human rights violations, the text details that the “states are to combat impunity as a matter of justice for the victims, as a deterrent with respect to future human rights violations and in order to uphold the rule of law and public trust in the justice system.”

That is why it is important to support the 2nd of November as the International Day to End Impunity.

Speak your truths. The importance of truth starts on an individual level.


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