In the fight against corruption, investigative journalists and whistleblowers play a critical role. The assassinations of journalists Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta and Jan Kuciak in Slovakia are indicative of the dangers journalists face in exposing corrupt officials and their ties to organized crime so that they might be held accountable. In my statement from October 2020, I expressed my disappointment that three years after Daphne’s death, no one has been able to determine who ordered it or what the motivations were for her horrible execution.
While the killers of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Matina Kunrová were convicted in September 2020, two and a half years after their murders, it was unfortunate that those who orchestrated the atrocities were not. In this regard, I have emphasized that a recent court decision demonstrated that there is still work to be done in Slovakia to secure justice and prevent impunity. Olivera Laki, a journalist with the Montenegrin daily Vijesti who is recognized for her investigations into political corruption, survived an attempted murder in 2018, but the perpetrators have yet to be apprehended. In the instance of Serbian investigative journalist Ivan Nini’s violent assault in 2015, impunity still reigns, while KRIK (the Crime and Corruption Reporting Network) journalists have received death threats and have been the victim of smear campaigns. Another notable instance in this regard is that of Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist who was imprisoned for criticizing officials of the government and their families for alleged corruption and illicit business activities.
In her case, the European Court found multiple violations of the Convention, including a violation of Article 18, determining that the real objective of the denial of liberty was to silence and punish the journalist for her journalism. The so-called Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation are another danger for journalists investigating corruption (SLAPPs). These are frivolous legal lawsuits brought by powerful individuals or corporations in order to coerce journalists into ending their inquiries. For example, when Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered, she was already the subject of over 40 civil and criminal defamation proceedings in Malta, some of which have been pursued against her family posthumously. I Finally, openness is a critical instrument in the fight against corruption because it shows that the public interest is still at the forefront of decision-making.
Despite the Council of Europe’s strong anti-corruption rules and GRECO’s competent monitoring of member states’ compliance, corruption continues to represent a severe danger to the rule of law and human rights throughout the area. To effectively combat corruption, Council of Europe member states should adhere to all Council of Europe and international norms relating to the prevention of corruption and the promotion of integrity, as well as accelerate the implementation of GRECO’s recommendations.
Corruption can take various forms other than bribes, such as conflicts of interest, therefore perception and reality may not always match completely. As a result, even countries with a high level of trust in their public institutions, as observed by GRECO, must implement preventive anti-corruption measures whenever a potential gap has been discovered, regardless of where they rank in perception indexes. Officials must operate with integrity and avoid any interactions that could result in a conflict of interest or an elevated risk of corruption.
It’s also critical to have a strong, well-functioning, and appropriately funded system of monitoring of police wrongdoing, as well as to provide regular integrity and ethics training to law enforcement officers. In countries with poor governance, public spending on health care is extremely wasteful. Member states must provide strong and effective governance to combat corruption in this sector, as it is a key tool for the proper operation of national health care systems and the prevention of emergencies like as pandemics. Governments must guarantee journalists’ freedom of expression and safety, as well as combat impunity for crimes against them.
Politicians must avoid unfair criticism and pressure on investigative journalists, which could chill their work and lead to self-censorship. Finally, governments must successfully combat SLAPPs by permitting early dismissal of such claims, enacting measures to punish abuse, including reversing the costs of procedures, and minimizing the impacts of SLAPPs by providing real support to those who are sued.