Three leading press freedom groups have launched a tribunal in The Hague to hold governments accountable for journalists’ deaths.
The tribunal, which has no formal legal powers, is a ‘form of grassroots justice’ and will run for six months, closing on May 3 next year, which is World Press Freedom Day. It has been spearheaded by Netherlands-based Free Press Unlimited, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders.
The tribunal will focus on three specific cases against the governments of Sri Lanka, Mexico and Syria, who are accused of failing to deliver justice for the respective murders of Lasantha Wickrematunge, Miguel Ángel López Velasco, and Nabil Al-Sharbaji.
The aim, the organisers say, is to ‘illustrate the ways in which these states fail to honour their obligations under international human rights law, as well as the impact of impunity on victims, journalistic communities, and societies.’
Since 1992, over 1400 journalists have been killed, and in more than 80% of cases where a journalist is murdered, the killers go free, the organisers say.
‘Freedom of expression is an essential human right. And yet, the frequency of grave violations committed against journalists coupled with prevailing high levels of impunity is alarming,’ said human rights lawyer Almudena Bernabeu, the tribunal’s chief prosecutor. ‘It is time that states are held accountable.’
The launch coincides with the UN’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, a date chosen in memory of two French journalists who were killed in Mali on November 2, 2013.
The dangers faced by journalists were brought home earlier this year by the murder of television crime reporter Peter R de Vries. The growth of organised crime, anti-media rhetoric by the far right and threats from hooligans have all had an impact on press safety.
And News website Nu.nl reported on Monday that an increasing number of media organisations in the Netherlands are buying special clothing and bodycams for their staff to protect them while covering risky events such as demonstrations.
‘There are many media organisations which have bought the stab-proof vests as a precaution,’ Peter ter Velde, project leader at safe press organisation PersVeilig, told Nu.nl.
During the recent riots in Eindhoven people were walking around with knives and some threw them at both the police and journalists, he said.
In March, police arrested a man in the staunchly Protestant village of Urk who attempted to drive his car at a journalist who was reporting on the decision of a local church to welcome hundreds of worshippers despite coronavirus.
Then in April, police launched an investigation after an official press photographer was attacked by several men at the scene of a countryside car fire.
In May, an Associated Press photographer was attacked as he was taking pictures of the Ajax league title win celebrations and filed an official complaint with the Amsterdam police.
More recently, the fights between Vitesse and NEC football hooligans led local broadcaster Omroep Gelderland to stop staff from covering risky matches and demonstrations.
Many broadcast organisations have also stopped using their own logos on trucks and satellite dishes as a precaution.
PersVeilig was set up by Dutch journalists’ union NVJ, the society of editors in chief, police and the public prosecution department two years ago in an effort to improve reporters’ safety through advice and training.
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