Freedom of Expression

Press Release R159/16

International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists


Alarming impunity for crimes against journalists: States must adopt comprehensive policy to put an end to this problem


November 2, 2016  


On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission (IACHR) commemorates those journalists who lost their lives for doing their job and reiterates that impunity for these crimes continues to be one of the major challenges for the safe exercise of freedom of expression in the Americas.  


According to data collected by the Office of the Special Rapporteur, between January 1, 2010 and November 2016, at least 162 journalists and media workers have been murdered in the region for reasons that could have been related with their exercise of freedom of expression. During this period, several others have been displaced from the areas in which they worked and hundreds received threats and were victims of intimidation in connection with their exercise of freedom of expression. Women journalists have also reported being victims of sexual violence, harassment and intimidation for reasons related to their profession.


Over the last three years the rate of murders of journalists has maintained alarming levels. In 2014 the Office of the Special Rapporteur registered 25 murders that could be linked to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, 27 more murders were recorded in 2015, and by August 2016 17 more cases have been documented.   


Violence against journalists is intensified by the impunity that prevails in these kinds of crimes. During 2016 there was important progress in the investigation, trial, and punishment of some of those responsible for crimes committed against journalists in past years. However, despite these efforts, the majority of these crimes remain in a troubling state of impunity. This results in an important number of unsolved crimes and generates a chilling effect incompatible with a democratic system.


Both the Commission and the Court have reiterated that violence against journalists or media workers and the issue of impunity not only violate the right of the victim to freedom of expression and information but also generates a profound chilling effect on other journalists and on the right of society to be informed. 


The Office of the Special Rapporteur has insisted that the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists requires a comprehensive strategy by the State, which includes the adoption of legislative measures and effective public policy.  On the merits report published in 2016 by the Inter-American Commission for the case of  Aristeu Guida da Silva and Family (Brazil), the IACHR indicated that in meeting their obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for acts of violence against journalists for the exercise of their right to freedom of expression, the States must place special emphasis on certain obligations, including: (i) the obligation to adopt an adequate institutional framework for the effective investigation, prosecution, and punishment of violence against journalists; (ii) the obligation to exercise due diligence and exhaust lines of inquiry related to the victim’s practice of journalism; (iii) the obligation to conduct investigations within a reasonable time period; and (iv) la obligation to facilitate victim participation in the investigations.


The IACHR emphasized in this report the importance of the duty to investigate and exhaust all logical lines of inquiry related to the journalist’s professional activities and highlighted that the investigation that fails to consider aspects linked to this context "will be less likely to yield results and will probably raise questions about the willingness of the authorities to solve the crime".


In sum, the Office of the Special Rapporteur reiterates the phenomenon of violence against journalists and media workers can and should be addressed in a comprehensive manner, with policies and measures of prevention, protection and accountability. Thus, the Office calls on the member States to:



1.   Adopt adequate preventive mechanisms in order to avert violence against media workers, including the public condemnation of all acts of aggression, omitting any statement that may increase the risk for journalists; the respect for journalists’ right to keep their sources of information; the training of public officials, particularly police and security forces, and, if necessary, the adoption of operation manuals or guidelines on the respect for the right of freedom of expression, determining appropriate sanctions proportionate to the damage done; as well as the development of accurate statistics on violence against journalists.


2.   Adopt the measures necessary to guarantee the security of those who are at special risk by virtue of exercising their right to freedom of expression, whether the threats come from state agents or private individuals. Measures or protection programs must be suitable and sufficient for its purpose, in accordance with the views expressed in this report.


3.   Carry out serious, impartial, and effective investigations into the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation committed against journalists and media workers, in accordance with this report. This entails the creation of specialized units and special investigative protocols, as well as the identification and exhaustion of all possible case theories related to the professional work of the victim.


4.   Bring to trial, before impartial and independent tribunals, all those responsible for the murders, attacks, threats, and acts of intimidation based on the exercise of freedom of expression, remove legal obstacles to the investigation and punishment of these crimes, and provide the victims and their family members ample participation during the investigation and prosecution, as well as adequate compensation, and eliminate gender barriers that obstruct access to justice.


5.   Adopt the necessary measures so that media workers in situations of risk who have been displaced or exiled can return to their homes in conditions of safety. If these persons cannot return, the States must adopt measures so that they can stay in their chosen place in conditions of dignity, with security measures, and with the necessary economic support to maintain their work and their family lives.


6.   Adopt special measures to protect journalists who are reporting on situations of armed conflict and social unrest, and guarantee that they are not detained, threatened, attacked or have their rights limited in any way for the exercise of their profession; that their work materials and tools are not destroyed nor confiscated by the authorities, according to what was laid out in this report; and create special protocols to protect the press in circumstances of social unrest.


7.   Adopt specific, adequate and effective measures to prevent attacks and other forms of violence perpetrated against women journalists, and prosecute and punish those responsible. States must adopt effective measures to encourage reporting of cases of violence against women journalists and combat the impunity that characterizes those crimes.