On International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists | Statement to the PC

United States nameplate in the Hofburg Congress Center's Neuer Saal, location of many OSCE Permanent Council sessions. (USOSCE/Colin Peters)

My delegation strongly supports the statement of our European Union colleagues marking the United Nations-declared International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. To do its job, a free press needs protection from violence and intimidation.

In too many places around the world, those who threaten, kidnap, beat, and kill journalists do so with impunity. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that so far in 2016 at least 36 media professionals have been killed for their reporting, and to date none of those responsible have been apprehended or prosecuted. The United Nations counts over 700 journalists who have been killed for their work in the last decade, including in our OSCE region.

There has been no progress in establishing accountability for the killings in Russia of Paul Klebnikov, murdered in 2004, Anna Politikovskaya in 2006, and Natalia Estimirova in 2009. An online news agency founded by the Chechen Information Ministry published an article in May 2015 ominously comparing Novaya Gazeta investigative journalist Elena Milashina with Politkovskaya, threatening that she ultimately could face the same fate. In March of this year, journalists on a reporting tour organized by the NGO Committee for the Prevention of Torture were stopped and beaten by a group of masked assailants as they traveled from Ingushetia to Chechnya. No one has been prosecuted for the attack.

The 1999 murder of Slavko Ćuruvija, a prominent Serbian journalist critical of Slobodan Milosevic, remains unresolved. Ćuruvija’s murder is only one of many examples of impunity for the killing of journalists across the Western Balkans region. We are encouraged by Serbia’s renewed efforts to reexamine this case, and several others, and to hold those responsible accountable.

While Montenegro has made significant progress in prosecuting serious crime in recent years, the 2005 murder of Duško Jovanović, editor-in-chief of opposition daily Dan, remains unresolved.  We encourage the government to make progress on this case in line with Montenegro’s commitments on freedom of the media and rule of law.

Those who murdered Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Huseynov, the widely respected founder and editor of The Monitor, in 2005 have still not been brought to justice.

Hrant Dink, the editor of the Turkey-based Armenian-language newspaper Argos, was assassinated in Istanbul in 2007. Dink was well known for promoting reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and for his advocacy of human rights and protection of minorities. The investigation into his murder drew criticism when police files were destroyed and phone records and security tapes were lost, destroyed, or declared nonexistent. The 2012 conviction of several accomplices failed to address the issue of who commissioned the slaying.

Mr. Chair, there are many other such cases in our region, including in the countries of Central Asia. As Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatović has reported: “Authorities throughout the OSCE region are failing to take action to reduce the high number of attacks against journalists, and they are failing to confront the issue of impunity.”

For our part, together with others in the international community, my country is deeply committed to working to eliminate impunity for crimes against media professionals. We applaud the work of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on journalist safety and the efforts of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to place a spotlight on abuses against journalists around the world. Through the Community of Democracies’ Freedom of Expression Working Group and the Freedom Online Coalition, the United States and other partners push back against impunity and other barriers to a free press. This year, my country has made a major reinvestment in the Securing Access to Freedom of Expression Initiative. Dubbed SAFE, the initiative trains journalists in digital and physical security to help them do their jobs while avoiding targeting. SAFE also helps journalists share best practices for risk mitigation and build solidarity with one another, a form of protection in itself.

As President Obama has said: “The world is a better and stronger place when individual conscience and a press that is free [are] allowed to function.”  Securing justice for journalists and their families is essential to achieving an OSCE region in which all are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear, and in which all have access to the range of facts and opinions necessary for making informed decisions about issues of importance to their countries and the international community.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

As delivered by Ambassador Daniel Baer to the Permanent Council, Vienna