November 2nd, 2021 

Staff Report

On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Reem Alsalem, issue the following statement:

“The safety of journalists remains as precarious as ever, impunity for crimes against them as high and persistent as before.

Over the past year, around the world journalists have been threatened, harassed, attacked physically, abducted, arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and killed – simply for doing their job. 

Threats to the safety of journalists, far from abating, have taken new forms in the digital age, especially for women journalists. While both male and female journalists are threatened in the course of their work, women, including those from minority groups, are at much higher risk of sexual attacks and online gender-based violence, including online harassment, trolling, doxing, rape, and death threats.

The failure to investigate and address attacks online has real-life consequences for women journalists, affecting their mental and physical health, undermining their confidence and autonomy, stigmatizing them and generating fear, shame and reputational and professional damage. In extreme cases online threats can escalate to physical violence and even murder, as the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia showed.

Whether targeting male or female journalists, online or offline, crimes against journalists seek to intimidate and silence those who dare to seek and expose the truth. Attacks on journalists are an assault on society’s right to be informed, on the right to freedom of expression as well as many other human rights, including the right to life and liberty of the individuals concerned.

Impunity emboldens perpetrators. UNESCO’s research shows that where impunity for crimes against journalists is high, so too are the numbers of journalists killed.

States have an obligation to conduct prompt, impartial, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all crimes against journalists, online or offline. When they fail to investigate and prosecute the crimes, they are effectively censoring speech, muzzling those who dare to report and chilling others into silence. Furthermore, a failure to conduct a proper investigation of a potentially unlawful death is regarded, in itself, as a violation of the right to life.

Nine out of ten killings of journalists continue to go unpunished. That the needle has not shifted over the past decade is a clear indication that national and international measures for protecting the safety of journalists are failing. Much more needs to be done.

We reiterate the call for a standing investigatory mechanism to be set up by the United Nations, drawing on independent international experts, including from the Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies, to assist investigations, identify avenues for justice at national, regional and international levels, and support measures to end impunity and prevent violence against journalists.

We reiterate the need for States to consider individualized sanctions against those responsible for ordering, carrying out or threatening acts of violence against journalists, or preventing or hampering effective investigations.

We call on States to prohibit, investigate and prosecute online and offline gender-based violence against women journalists. Investigators must presume such crimes are connected to the journalist’s work unless proven otherwise. States as well as companies must include a gender perspective in all initiatives aimed to create a safe and favorable environment for independent, diverse and pluralistic media.    

In an increasingly digitalized world, States must ensure that all journalists, women as well as men, are free to carry out their vital work free from threats, intimidation or any form of reprisal online or offline.”


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