Friday, November 4, 2016
"Investigate, trial and punish. That is the only way we can break the cycle of impunity." With these words Leon Willems, Director of Free Press Unlimited, ended his speech at Free Press Live 2016. On November 2nd, hundreds of journalists, policy makers and others came together in The Hague to stand up for journalists and justice.

"At the end of this afternoon full of inspiration, sadness, engagement and depth, I am not going to repeat numbers or stress how important this is. You know it is, I know it is. We need to move from words to action. Today I feel the urge to give you some perspectives and I hope we can together unite. This is my call to action. 

First of all, we have to stand together and acknowledge our collective responsibility because there is no silver bullet solution. There is no one size fits all safety mechanism. Media houses: tell the stories There is a change needed in media houses. Often reporters hesitate to report about the trouble they have while reporting. In light of what we have heard today, we need to change that. All media houses should report more and in depth about how journalists are murdered and why nothing is done about it. If we don’t report about it and ask for attention to it all the time, how can we expect others to prioritise it?

I give you the example of the Pakistan Press Foundation. They managed to effectively push for the media sector in Pakistan to show solidarity. Media houses agreed that from that moment on every attack on a staff member would be covered by all of them. 'An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.' As a result the media started to do non-stop coverage of cases of violence against journalists that occurred, which resulted in these cases being taken up by authorities and the release of journalists. It ended the cycle of impunity.

Solidarity works

I call for the establishment of a trust fund for journalists. You have heard that 95% of the journalists killed are local journalists. Often they are uninsured, and have no access to protective gear and training. We rely on them to bring us the news from those areas we are too scared to go to ourselves. I am calling on everybody here to create an international trust fund to help these colleagues.

Help those who fall between the cracks

Build capacity to prosecute and investigate. When journalists are harmed we often leave it up to them and their colleagues to investigate what happened and pursue justice. So we leave it up to journalist Claudia Duque from Colombia to investigate the murder of fellow journalist Jaime Garzón. She is the only one who bothered and is paying for it dearly. In the end it is the friends, colleagues and family of Stan Storimans who pursue justice. 

There is another step needed to end impunity. When prosecution on the ground is lacking, we need an actor to take up this role on an international level. Because in the case of Dutch journalist Stan Storimans the investigation that was undertaken proved beyond doubt that a Russian cluster bomb was the source of the attack. The same goes for the case of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes, who was killed in 1999 in East Timor. We can with almost full certainty say that three identified soldiers of the Indonesian army were responsible for his killing, but prosecution did not follow. We have to create independent research capacity, international prosecutors and investigative judges, that can handle the investigation after violence against journalists has taken place, when states fail to do so.

Investigate, trial and punish. That is the only way we can break the cycle of impunity. Killing journalists is a war crime, for which we need international prosecution. 

My name is Leon Willems, and I stand up for journalists and justice. I will do my utmost to turn these ideas into actions as director of Free Press Unlimited and cooperate with our partners. I invite you to join me today to commit to act to end the impunity for violence against journalists."

Read more about how to end impunity.