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Learning the right lessons

Opinion Article
Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered investigative journalist

Daphne Caruana Galizia, murdered investigative journalist

Times of Malta, 16/10/2018

A year ago, today, Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally killed when a powerful explosive device blew up her car. Twelve months later, her family is still waiting for justice – and her colleagues for better protection.

So far, the investigations the Maltese authorities have carried out have led to three people being charged for carrying out the assassination. However, the identity of whoever ordered the murder, and their motivation, remains unknown.

Her family has understandably expressed its disappointment regarding the effectiveness of the investigations, while the Maltese government has stressed that the complexity of the case demands patience and time.

Twelve months may indeed be an insufficient period of time for the authorities to conclude this case but the longer it takes to establish the truth and punish all those responsible, the more likely it becomes that impunity will prevail.

The Maltese authorities should put more effort into making sure this does not happen. Impunity would deepen the family’s sorrow, allow criminals to escape public accountability, undermine the credibility of the State’s institutions and endanger democracy and the rule of law. It would also violate Malta’s legal obligations under international human rights law to ensure that journalists can work freely and safely, to make sure that we all, as citizens, can receive the information we need to take part in the decision-making process and to hold those in power accountable.

This is stressed in particular in the unambiguous case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, which requires that states protect journalists’ lives. In cases where they fail to uphold this obligation, states are still obliged to carry out effective investigations and punish the actual perpetrators and the mastermind of the killing.

The Court has spelled out these obligations in several cases and, in particular, in three important judgments in 2005, 2010 and 2018 when it found that the authorities of Ukraine, Turkey and the Russian Federation breached the European Convention on Human Rights for failing to protect the lives and investigate the murders of, respectively, journalists Georgiy Gongadze, Hrant Dink and Anna Politkovskaya.

The investigations in Malta began promptly and with the help of international forensic experts. They must now become more effective, open to public scrutiny and involve the victim’s relatives.

Complying with these obligations is crucial to uncover the truth and serve justice but will represent only a partial success unless the Maltese authorities also take concrete measures to protect journalists and their families in the country.

The threats to Caruana Galizia were known to the authorities before she was killed. Yet, the State left her without protection. This shows the glaring need for Malta to improve the way the police and law enforcement officers handle threats against journalists and react to the dangers their families face.

To progress towards this goal, the Maltese government does not need to reinvent the wheel. A Council of Europe recommendation, adopted in 2016 by all member states, including Malta, provides detailed legislative and policy measures to help governments to ensure the safety of journalists and other media actors.

Successful experiences in protecting journalists exist in Europe and should inspire the Maltese authorities. Italy, for example, is a country where many journalists have been killed in the past and still face a variety of real and dangerous threats but the State has put its weight behind them to save their lives.

In 2017, there were 19 journalists with 24-hour police escorts and more than 160 journalists benefiting from less stringent protection measures. Were it not for this State protection, many of them might already have been killed.

There are also other complementary measures that can increase the protection of journalists and their families. One such measure includes cooperating closely with journalists’ organisations, independent bodies and non-governmental organisations that monitor attacks against journalists.

These are inexpensive and effective steps that the Maltese authorities can undertake to grasp the magnitude of the problem, find solutions to the threats journalists face and, ultimately, improve the trust of journalists in the State institutions aimed at protecting them.

Improving the protection of journalists also requires that political leaders, opinion makers and influencers avoid hostile speech and actions against them.

And here there is a lot more to be done. The dozens of libel lawsuits – some of which were filed by Cabinet ministers – still pending against Caruana Galizia, the frequent removals of her makeshift memorial in Valletta, the debate around it and the smear campaign against activists who take care of the memorial are testament to this.

Caruana Galizia was abandoned to the brutality of those who did not want her to bring criminal activities that undermine democracy and the rule of law under public scrutiny.

Establishing the truth and learning the right lessons from this horrendous crime must become a top political priority in Malta. This is owed to her family as much as to the Maltese population.

Dunja Mijatović is Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

> Read the original version on times of Malta