With journalists facing frequent and often fatal violence both in conflict zones and stable countries, a United Nations expert today called on international bodies, including the Security Council, to take action against the scourge, warning that impunity is spawning a rising incidence in such attacks.
“Without paying systematic attention to all attacks against the press, without ending impunity, it is very difficult to ensure the safety of journalists,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, warned the Council during a special meeting on protection of journalists.
“Most cases of violence and threats against journalists are not investigated and those responsible are never identified, prosecuted or tried. The sense of impunity is a main cause for the recurrence of episodes of attacks against journalists around the world,” he said, calling on the 15-member Council, whose resolutions have the binding force of law, to pay greater attention to attacks against journalists and other threats to freedom of expression within its regular agenda.
At present the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), whose mandate includes defending press freedom, routinely condemns all attacks against the media, calling for the punishment of the perpetrators, but its condemnations lack the binding force of law.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 1,017 journalists have been killed since 1992, 48 of them this year.
Mr. La Rue noted that at least 84 journalists have been killed in Syria since violence between the Government and opponents erupted there in March, 2011, and that just last month two journalists were killed in strife-torn Mali.
“These are simply very recent extreme cases that give some idea on the risks journalists face to inform us every day,” he said. “Only in the last two years, I have prepared letters on attacks against 171 journalists to 40 different countries.”
Mr. La Rue stressed that more systematic attention by international bodies to all events of violence and harassment against journalists is crucial to change this trend.
“Only some extreme cases of violence raise some attention,” he said. “The far majority remains totally invisible. Before a journalist is killed, threats and other forms of attacks take place without any attention from the national authorities or the international community.
“In times of war or peace, when the public right to know the truth of events is threatened, all human rights can be undermined,” he concluded.
Special Rapporteurs are unpaid independent experts appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, to whom they report.