Killing with Impunity

Case Study: Uma Singh Murdered for Speaking Out

Uma Singh was a journalist who frequently spoke out against Nepal’s traditional dowry system and reported on other controversial women’s rights issues. She was stabbed to death by a group of approximately 15 men in her room in Janakhpur, Nepal. The incident, which occurred in January 2009, took place in full view of other boarders in the home.

Later that year, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) confirmed that Singh was in fact murdered as a result of her reporting, and that the Nepalese government was taking little action to find the men responsible for the murder.

The dowry system in Nepal and many other South Asian countries requires that a bride’s family give the groom’s family material and financial gifts as a condition of the marriage. There have been cases of wives being beaten or even killed by their in-laws for not bringing a large enough dowry. The dowry system is widely regarded as morally wrong, though it remains prevalent throughout the region. Culturally, it is not considered acceptable to speak against dowry, especially not for a woman. Singh was undoubtedly endangering herself by not conforming to these social norms and reporting on the abuse of women.

As reported by the Huffington Post, a group of Maoists with ties to the Communist Party of Nepal may have been the murderers. This party is the majority in the newly formed coalition, which replaced the previous monarchy, and is the party of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Before becoming Prime Minister in 2007, Dahal led Maoist forces in a guerilla insurgency against the monarchy. Press organizations charged the Maoist forces with responsibility for attacking journalists who spoke out against the Communist cause during the insurgency. In 2009 CNN quoted Dahal as having said, "Now we will no longer tolerate criticism as we have already been elected by the people."

Journalists in the area fear for their safety as the government provides little protection against armed groups. Yet the Nepalese government is not the only one which offers little protection to journalists. Nepal was eighth on CPJ’s 2008 “Impunity Index,” a list of governments that frequently leave cases like Singh’s unsolved. Other countries on the list include Iraq, Somalia, Colombia and the Philippines. Six months after Singh's murder, CPJ had noted 19 confirmed cases of journalists killed in their line of work and 15 unconfirmed. In 21 of these cases the journalists were suspected to be the targets of the attacks.

CPJ has been tracking murders of journalists around the world since 1992. According to the group, murder accounts for 71.8% of deaths of journalists on assignment, with the remaining deaths related to combat crossfire and the dangerous nature of the assignments. A shocking 18.3% of murders were carried out by government officials and the largest number, 32.1%, were carried out by political groups. It is clear that this issue is not becoming any less prevalent; since 1992, the number of murders of journalists around the world every year has not decreased. Of those journalists murdered, fewer than 5 percent of cases have been completely resolved.


Type of Death

Suspected perpetrators in murder cases*:

Impunity in murder cases:


                        Murder: 71.8%


                        Crossfire/Combat related: 17.8%


      During other

dangerous assignment: 10.2%


                        Political groups: 32.1%


                        Government officials: 18.3%


                        Criminal group: 11.8%


                        Paramilitaries: 6.9%


                        Military: 5.8%


                        Local residents: 2.1%


                        Mob: 1%


        Unknown: 22%


                        Complete impunity: 88.7%


                        Partial justice: 6.4%


Full justice: 4.9%

        2008: 42

        2007: 66

        2006: 56

        2005: 48

        2004: 60

        2003: 42

        2002: 21

        2001: 37

        2000: 24

        1999: 36

        1998: 24

        1997: 26

        1996: 26

        1995: 51

        1994: 66

        1993: 57

    1992: 42