UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - India, the Philippines, Mexico and Colombia -- all democracies -- were cited Wednesday among 13 countries with the poorest records of prosecuting murders of journalists, in a list released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The CPJ noted that while Iraq, Sierra Leone and Somalia, all four mired in conflict, were the worst offenders, most of the others were "established, peacetime democracies."
"Most countries on the Impunity Index are democratic, are not at war, and have functioning law enforcement institutions, yet journalists are regularly targeted for murder and no one is held accountable," it said as it released the index ahead of World Press Freedom Day, which falls Saturday.
"Every time a journalist is murdered and the killer is allowed to walk free, it sends a terrible signal to the press and to others who would harm journalists," said New York-based CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
He urged governments on the list to "do more to demonstrate a real commitment to a free press."
Almost half of the countries listed are in South Asia: Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. And most of the murders ranked in the index were of local journalists in their home countries.
"We are calling for action: thorough investigations and vigorous prosecutions in all journalist homicides," Simon added.
The index, which was compiled for the first time this year, calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of the population in each country.
CPJ examined every nation in the world for the years 1998 through 2007. Only those nations with five or more unsolved cases are included on the index. Cases are considered unsolved when no convictions have been obtained.
Iraq, the world's most dangerous country for the press after the 2003 US-led invasion, was found to have the worst record, with 79 murders unsolved, most of the victims Iraqis killed for professional reasons.
Sierra Leone, which emerged from an 11-year civil war in 2002, had nine unsolved journalist murders while lawless Somalia, which has not known a stable government since 1991, had five unsolved cases.
In Colombia, at least 20 unsolved cases were reported, most of them involving journalists covering the conflict among right-wing paramilitaries, leftist guerillas, and government forces.