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UN expert alarmed at rise in number of journalists killed for their work

Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.
UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré
Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression.

UN expert alarmed at rise in number of journalists killed for their work

The number of journalists killed last year rose by 26 per cent compared to 2008 and many of the murders were related to investigations into corruption, organized crime and political misdeeds that the reporters were carrying out at the time of their death, a United Nations independent expert said today.

Abductions of journalists and other media professionals also continued in 2009, a practice that forced 157 journalists to seek exile in other countries, according to Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Last year set a new record, with 77 journalists killed, according to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“I an also alarmed by some of the statistics which indicate that the perpetrators of these offences have enjoyed total impunity in 94 per cent of all cases, while the percentage of cases in which even some partial measure of justice has been obtained is minimal,” Mr. La Rue told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Only 2 per cent of cases related to crimes against journalists were brought before law enforcement authorities and perpetrators and instigators prosecuted, Mr. La Rue added.

He urged States – particularly the Philippines, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia and Mexico, which account in descending order for the greatest number of journalists killed – to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the protection and safety of journalists.

“I would like to reiterate that in accordance with Security Council resolution 1739 and obligations under international human rights law, States must carry out exhaustive investigations into each case of attacks against journalists and to prosecute those responsible,” Mr. La Rue added.

Commenting on his 12-day mission to the Republic of Korea last month, Mr. La Rue said his overall observation was that the freedom of expression there has been diminishing, citing the continuing widespread use, including by Government officials and institutions, of the law on defamation, which remains a criminal offence in the country. He recommended that Seoul decriminalize defamation to promote a culture of tolerance regarding criticism.

Mr. La Rue also cited “worrying restrictions on the Internet” in the Republic of Korea, saying the Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) operated as a censorship body, whose process of determining what kind of Internet postings should be deleted or temporarily blocked is “arbitrary and opaque.”

Mr. La Rue also urged States to adopt legislation which gave effect to the public’s right to access information.

“The ability of individuals to fully exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression and access communication tools is fundamental in combating inequality and discrimination. It is therefore particularly important for groups in need of specific attention – such as women, children, persons living in extreme poverty, minorities and indigenous people – to obtain information, assert their rights, and participate in decision-making to improve their situation.

“This in turn facilitates development and enables societies to progress towards the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” Mr. La Rue said.