Deeply concerned by the frequency of acts of violence in many parts of the world against media professionals in armed conflict, the United Nations Security Council today adopted a resolution condemning all violations and abuses committed against journalists and strongly deploring impunity for such acts.
The unanimously adopted resolution, which affirmed that the work of a free, independent and impartial media constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, “and thereby can contribute to the protection of civilians,” urged States to take appropriate steps to ensure accountability for crimes committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict and to ensure accountability for crimes committed against journalists.
Council members also recalled their demand that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, urging the immediate and unconditional release of journalists who have been kidnapped or taken as hostages, in situations of armed conflict and urging respect by all parties to conflicts for the professional independence and rights of journalists.
The high-level meeting, which was chaired by Linas Linkevicius, Foreign Minister of Lithuania, which holds the Council’s presidency for the month, also heard from the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, who pointed to the “troubling” rise in the number of journalists killed since 2006 and the increasing targeting and threatening of journalists by criminal and terrorist groups.
“Recent killings of journalists have been given extensive and welcome attention around the world, including the brutal murders of Western media representatives in Syria,” said Mr. Eliasson. “Yet, we must not forget that around 95 per cent of the killings of journalists in armed conflict concern locally-based journalists, receiving less media coverage.”
The Deputy Secretary-General drew the link between countries in armed conflicts, where the rule of law had broken down, and poor performance on Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index.
“We know that armed conflict not only endangers the life and safety of journalists,” he said. “It also limits the free flow of information, eroding rule of law and democracy. We should recall that conflict can easily be exacerbated in an environment that stifles freedom of expression.”
Underlining the fact that it is in such situations that the independent voices of journalist are most needed, Mr. Eliasson described ways in which members could advance the agenda of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalist and the Issue of Impunity.
He said States should unequivocally and consistently condemn the killing of journalists in conflict situations, regularly hold debates on protecting journalists, encourage Security Council-authorized missions to also look into the safety of journalists and media workers as part of protection of civilians mandates and to ensure that freedom of expression and the safety of journalists remain integral to human rights and justice reforms, and endorse and support the Plan of Action.
Also speaking to Council members was Christophe Deloire from Reporters Without Borders, who called for creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the protection of journalists in order to increase the prominence of the issue within the UN system. He said 90 per cent of crimes against journalists go unpunished.
“Such a high impunity rate encourages those who want to silence journalists by drowning them in their own blood,” he said.
In an impassioned address, Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002, said this is “a troubled time” for journalism, noting the extent of killings of journalists, with 25 killed around the world in just the first five months of 2015.
“In 2014, impunity in journalism murder cases reached a staggering 96 per cent and the remaining four per cent obtained only partial justice,” she said. “Mass surveillance by some Security Council member States puts journalists and their sources at risk, undermining the trust and confidentiality vital to quality journalism. And an increasing number of countries are now using anti-terrorism laws to muzzle the press even further.”
Ms. Pearl welcomed what she called “rhetorical commitments” by States to tackle the safety of journalists and impunity, including the UN Plan of Action.
“But we need to see more concerted efforts on the ground to actually implement them,” she said.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which is mandated to defend freedom of expression and press freedom maintains a webpage dedicated to journalists who were killed in the exercise of their profession. It remembers their contribution to freedom of expression, democracy and peace.