Impunity for crimes that silence truth

On 2 November in 2013, French nationals, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, a reporter and a sound technician, were abducted in broad daylight and forced into the back of a truck in Kidal in Mali, just after interviewing a local leader of an ethnic Tuareg separatist group. Their lifeless bodies were soon thereafter discovered, both shot to death on a desert track 20km outside the city. The perpetrators of this barbarity have yet to be brought to justice and Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon join the many hundreds of journalists whose perpetrators have never been found or brought to justice. On 2 November, the UN designated ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ , we remember them and the 1469 other journalists and media workers who have been killed because of their journalism since 1992 (Committee to Protect Journalists 2019).

The violent death of Daphne Caruana Galizia on European Union soil arguably shook the international community more than those executed in distant Mali four years prior; what the world may had once thought was only an issue plaguing the Global South has slowly now crept up into Europe and beyond. What we once labelled the problems of others are that much more tangibly are our own.

Maltese journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was known for leading the Panama Papers investigations. Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life came to an end when she was assassinated by a car bomb that left her vehicle and the appendages of her body scattered into pieces.

Though her home was formerly under guard for her investigative work into government corruption and regular reporting of misconduct by Maltese politicians and those politically exposed, there was no guard on the afternoon of 16 October 2017. Caruana Galizia’s son found his mother dead not far from their family home in Bidnija, Malta. Justice has also yet to be served in this case.

And to end this impunity—to whom do we turn?

In the case of Anna Politkovskaya, the investigative journalist who was shot dead in the entrance hall of her apartment block in Moscow by a Makarov pistol masked with a silencer back in 2006, her relatives sought hearing in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

Anna Politkovskaya made a name for herself reporting on alleged violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic, and for her adamant and regular critique of President Putin’s politics. Her journalism won her numerous awards abroad but brought on increasing marginalization at home. She was murdered on the way back into her apartment after returning from the grocery store on Saturday afternoon, 7 October 2006. She had a deadline to finish a piece on the systematic torture of prisoners in Russia’s coined war on terror in Chechnya.

The prosecutor’s office of Moscow swiftly opened a criminal investigation under the Russian Criminal Code concerning the murder of a person committed in connection with his or her professional or civil duties, but well over a decade later the case lays still dormant in the court system.

Solace has been found only from the 2018 ECtHR ruling on the case of Anna Politkovskaya. The Court held that Russia failed to uphold its positive obligation to protect life by law under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights by way of a State’s inherent and distinct obligation to carry out an effective investigation.[i] The ECtHR spelled out the utmost importance to check a possible connection between a journalist’s murder and their respective professional activity. The Court highlights that investigations into contract killings like that of Anna Politkovskaya, despite finding a hitman, do not often lead to the identification of the source that commissioned the murder.[ii]

To end this impunity—I suggest we also turn to ourselves. We can stand tall up against the face of impunity; we can rally in the streets; we can protest and call for accountability in the highest commanding ranks.

As we recognise the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, we can come together in the same way 25,000 Slovakians stood up together in memory of 27-year-old journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée who were murdered in February 2018. Jan Kuciak’s story unearthing Italian mafia ties to the Slovakian government was only published after he was murdered at close range inside his home in the village of Vel’ka Maca outside the capital of Bratislava.[iii]

Fueled by anger and outrage over Jan Kuciak and his fiancée’s death, the protests eventually led to the fall of the Slovakian government.

As we remember the life’s work of Ghislaine Dupont, Claude Verlon, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Anna Politkovskaya, Jan Kuciak and every other journalist and media worker who has been killed for carrying out their work, let us also remember how important a role press freedom plays in the preservation of our democracy; Investigative journalism is integral to supporting good governance and it must be safeguarded.   

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, back in 1963: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

Colette Simonne Heefner contributed to this blog

[i] The Mafia murders that brought down Slovakia’s government, 22 July 2018, available at:

[ii] Case of Mazapa and Others v. Russia, ECtHR, Judgement, 17 October 2018, para. 60.

[iii] Mazapa & others v. Russia, para. 45.