|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
7003rd Meeting (AM & PM)
Protection Stressed as Speakers in Security Council Sound Alarm over Number
of Journalists Targeted in Conflict Zones, Impunity Enjoyed by Perpetrators
Having paid the price for telling the truth, “they call me a dead man walking”, Mustafa Haji Abdinur, an Agence France-Presse reporter in Somalia told today’s Security Council open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists.
Mr. Abdinur said his work was to tell the stories of Somalia’s people, their struggles and their hopes for the future. Today, however, he hoped to speak for all the journalists in Syria, Brazil, Pakistan and elsewhere who had been harassed and killed over the past year. “I’m here simply because I’m lucky, because the gunmen who have killed so many of my friends have not yet found me,” he said, adding: “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
He was among several journalists participating in the day-long discussion opened by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who described their work as “the lifeblood of democratic and informed discourse and debate”. Noting that more than 600 journalists had been killed in the past decade, 41 of them in Syria in the course of 2012, and 108 in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006, Mr. Eliasson said that each journalist killed by extremists, drug cartels or even Government forces, meant one less voice to speak on behalf of the victims of conflict, crime and human rights abuses. Every reporter silenced was one less observer of efforts to uphold rights and human dignity.
“All journalists, across all media, need to be able to do their jobs — when it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits,” the Deputy Secretary-General said, commending the April 2012 launch of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issues of Impunity, designed to create a safe environment for media professionals in both conflict and non-conflict situations. The Security Council also had an important role to play by reacting to and standing up against suppression of media freedom, wherever and whenever it occurred, he said.
Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Foreign Correspondent for The Guardian, said there had been a “systematic hunting down of journalists”, as well as a sense of impunity enjoyed by all those who captured them; they were never questioned and never paid for their crimes. Jailers often accused journalists of starting trouble from behind bars, he said, adding that he had himself been detained in Afghanistan and Libya. In fact, journalists were part of a community of informers who deserved protection, he said.
Kathleen Carroll, Senior Vice-President and Executive Editor of the Associated Press and Vice-Chair of the Committee to Protect Journalists, asked world leaders to care about threats against journalists, stressing that journalists represented the ordinary citizen and asked questions on their behalf. “They go places the people cannot and bear witness.” An attack on a journalist was a proxy for an attack on the people and their right to information, she said, adding that, today, average citizens with cell phones and cameras also took part in journalism. The threat to them could be just as great as the threat to professional journalists, she warned.
Along similar lines, NBC Correspondent Richard Engel said that, just because one used Twitter did not necessarily make one a journalist. If today’s discussion was about protecting journalists, it was necessary first to decide who was to be protected. Somebody had to make that distinction, because that ambiguity seemed to serve Governments, even tyrants, who used to know that attacks on journalists had consequences, whereas today, all “journalists” were seen as troublemakers and part of the same nebulous category. Yet, professional journalists needed protection and immunity, just like diplomats, he stressed.
Following those opening remarks, Council members agreed that journalists played a critical role in armed conflict, reporting on events, revealing the horrors of war and spurring investigations of abuse, and that they should be protected as civilians in those situations. That was outlined in such instruments as the Geneva Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Council’s own resolution 1738 (2006), which condemns attacks on journalists and explicitly spells out their right to protection and respect.
France’s representative said that, despite that decisive step, the Council’s efforts had proven far from sufficient. The year 2012 had been particularly murderous, with female journalists, and bloggers in particular, increasingly targeted and numerous journalists in Syria killed or kidnapped in the line of duty. “The challenge of protecting journalists is one that we still have to meet,” he emphasized. Similarly, the representative of the United States said that, given the value of journalists to the Council’s work, it must do all in its power to protect them.
The 30 or more delegations taking the floor generally expressed broad support for the role played by journalists, with some agreeing that it was important to distinguish between them and activists. The frame of reference was less clear, however, when it came to identifying “professional” journalists from bloggers and other Internet or social media users spawned by the rapid and transformative technological progress.
Qatar’s representative, for instance, hailed professional journalists as the only ones truly qualified to tell the real story from the field. Although technological advances had enhanced the communications possibilities for many, he said, professional reporters were the cardinal means for conveying situations of war and peace, he said, expressing deep regret at the rampant violence committed against them.
Poland’s representative said “citizen journalism” had contributed greatly to political change, as in Tunisia and Libya. Moreover, journalism gave hope to people struggling under undemocratic regimes while also alerting the international community. The protection of journalists should cover all news providers, both professional and non-professional, as well as journalistic sources, and should also extend to periods of both peace and conflict, he said.
Israel’s representative said news irrefutably came from such brave men and women as those who put their lives on the line to document the bloody insurgencies and revolutions erupting throughout the Middle East. Journalism was the “public loudspeaker” for the courageous individuals who had taken to the streets demanding to be heard, yet in much of the region, their voices were stifled, he said. Journalists contended not only with censorship, intimidation and abduction, they were also deliberately targeted for violence. From Baghdad to Damascus and from Tehran to Khartoum, journalists were beaten, raped, tortured and killed.
Much attention was drawn to the situation in Syria, including by Austria’s representative, who said the country led “the charts of deadliest countries for journalists this year and in 2012”.
Syria’s representative said, however, that his Government had been working to treat the media openly, and had adopted a reformed media law that guaranteed greater freedom and transparency. It had granted access to 300 members of the international media, all of whom were working freely inside the country.
Brazil’s representative emphasized that protecting journalists required full respect for the privacy of their professional communications, adding that secret surveillance programmes were a source of grave concern because they violated both the human rights of individuals and the sovereignty of States. In that regard, member States of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) had decided to take a number of measures, including at the United Nations, with a view to seeking the adoption of multilateral rules for governance of the Internet, he said.
Others speaking today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Togo, China, Australia, Russian Federation, Republic of Korea, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Morocco, Pakistan, Argentina, New Zealand, Chile, Lithuania, Canada, Costa Rica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Malaysia, Botswana, Colombia, Greece, Netherlands, India, Senegal, Czech Republic, Sweden (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Ecuador, Venezuela, Japan, Ukraine, Bolivia, Uganda, Turkey and the Delegation of the European Union.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m., suspended at 1:19 p.m., resumed at 3:06 p.m. and ended at 5:01 p.m.
The Security Council met this morning for an open debate on the subject “Protection of civilians in armed conflict: protection of journalists”.
JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said freedom of expression was a fundamental human right, guaranteed in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and constituting an essential pillar of any society. It depended on and was nurtured by independent and informed pluralistic media — “the lifeblood of democratic and informed discourse and debate”.
Noting that more than 600 journalists had been killed in the past decade while exercising their critical role, he recalled that, just 10 days ago, Somali television journalist Libaan Abdullahi Farah had been shot dead on his way home. His murder was not an isolated case. Journalists were at grave risk in armed conflict and in many non-conflict situations around the world. In the former situation, however, they were particularly vulnerable, he said, pointing out that 41 journalists had been killed in Syria during 2012, and 108 in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006.
In many cases, he continued, journalists were murdered while covering corruption and illegal activities, and their assassinations were often preceded by threats. Attacks also took the forms of abduction, hostage taking, harassment, intimidation and illegal arrest. Women journalists were increasingly victims of sexual harassment and rape. “Every time a journalist is killed by extremists, drug cartels or even Government forces, there is one less voice to speak on behalf of the victims of conflict, crime and human rights abuses,” he emphasized. “Every journalist murdered or intimidated into silence is one less observer of efforts to uphold rights and ensure human dignity.”
He said the United Nations “Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issues of Impunity” had been launched to create a safe environment for the media in both conflict and non-conflict situations. Approved in April 2012 by the United Nations Chief Executives Board, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the lead, it relied on the support of Governments, local media, civil society and academia, and encouraged all United Nations entities to submit information contributing to greater safety for journalists.
The Security Council, too, could play an important role by reacting to and standing up against suppression of media freedom, wherever and whenever it occurred, he said, pointing out that when journalists were killed, information about threats to international peace and security was buried. When addressing agenda items, the Council might, therefore, wish to consider the targeting of journalists and other threats to freedom of expression. He concluded by quoting the Secretary-General: “All journalists, across all media, need to be able to do their jobs. When it is safe to speak, the whole world benefits.”
KATHLEEN CARROLL, Senior Vice-President and Executive Editor, Associated Press, and Vice-Chair, Committee to Protect Journalists, said most of the Associated Press journalists killed on assignment under her watch, like the 26 others killed in the agency’s history, had died while covering conflict. They had fallen during the Spanish-American war in Cuba, the Russo-Japanese war, the Korean conflict and the Second World War. Many had been shot dead in an ambush, a riot or at a checkpoint, she said, recalling that others had been captured, tortured and shot by the Nazis.
“These people are part of our professional family,” she continued. “They are in my head and heart each time we send AP journalists off into the world’s many treacherous spots.” However, most journalists dying today were not caught in some wartime crossfire, but murdered “just because of what they do”. The Committee to Protect Journalists documented attacks on journalists each year, and their annual accounting was grim, she said, noting that more than 30 journalists were murdered every year, with many abducted and tortured first.
“Why should the world’s leaders care about threats against journalists?” she asked, stressing that journalists represented the ordinary citizen, asking questions on their behalf. “They go places the people cannot and bear witness.” An attack on a journalist was a proxy for an attack on the people and their right to information, she said, adding that, today, average citizens with cell phones and cameras also took part in journalism. The threat to them could be just as great as the threat to professional journalists, she warned.
MUSTAFA HAJI ABDINUR, reporter for Agence France-Presse in Somalia, said he was often referred to as a “dead man walking”, and his work was to tell the stories of Somalia’s people, their struggles and their hopes for the future. Today, however, he hoped to speak for all the journalists in Syria, Brazil, Pakistan and other places who had been harassed and killed over the past year. “I’m here simply because I’m lucky, because the gunmen who have killed so many of my friends have not yet found me,” he said, adding: “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”
He went on to note that the scores of journalists killed while covering the decades-long conflict in Somalia had understood the risks. “They died telling the truth,” he said, adding that he longed for the day when the perpetrators would be prosecuted and punished, since the vast majority of them continued to kill with impunity. “Without a free press, there can be no freedom for a country,” he emphasized. When a journalist was killed, “the news dies, too”. The question today was how long their bravery could continue. Indeed, “we are few remaining”, he said, noting that today’s discussion would play an important role in answering that question, and in helping to encourage States to support journalists. In the meantime, the work of telling the truth would continue, he stressed. “We will not fail the dream, we will never be discouraged.”
RICHARD ENGEL, Correspondent, NBC, said he had been kidnapped in Syria six months ago, but had been able to escape following a gunfight. In Istanbul’s Taksim Square, everyone had seemed to have a camera or cell phone, and some had even worn gas masks, indicating that they were part of the clashes. Some people had carried stones, as well as cell phones, he said, noting that such a situation was, indeed, very confusing from the police perspective. Protecting journalists meant determining who was a journalist, a task that was perhaps harder than ever these days because distinguishing between journalists and activists was more ambiguous than ever before.
Going back just 15 years, journalists had been part of a league, similar to diplomats, who carried badges and were protected in their job, which often involved upsetting powerful and dangerous people, he said. “We were like diplomats posted to faraway places, but who needed a type of special status so we could be objective.” It had worked well for more than a century, but now bloggers, tweeters and freelancers saw themselves as activists. Indeed, some freelancers joined rebel groups and carried guns, he pointed out. If today’s discussion was about protecting journalists, it was necessary first to decide who was to be protected.
He went on to note that many rebels in Syria carried cameras and some called themselves journalists, but they were rebels with cameras and part of the fight. If one could not or would not write an article critical of one’s own cause, then one did not deserve to be treated like a journalist. Similarly, a reporter working for Syrian State television who could not or would not write against the Government was not a journalist. In terms of activists using Twitter, for example, he said they might get the information right, but when they were arrested, the question became what should be done and whether they should be offered the same protection as journalists.
“Just because one uses Twitter does not necessarily mean they are a journalist,” he emphasized. It was a judgment call, but somebody must make it because such distinctions were important, he stressed, noting that today’s Governments, even tyrants, seemed happy with the ambiguity. There was no longer greater respect for career journalists arrested, kidnapped and killed than for non-journalists, he said, recalling that Governments used to know that such actions had consequences. Today, all “journalists” were seen as troublemakers and part of the same nebulous category, yet professional journalists needed protection and immunity, just like diplomats.
GHAITH ABDUL-AHAD, Foreign Correspondent, The Guardian, said there was a “systematic hunting down of journalists”, and a sense of impunity on the part all those who captured journalists; they were never questioned and never paid for it. Indeed, such officials were never brought to trial or shamed before world public opinion. That created a sense that professional journalists were asking for trouble just by being on a particular scene. “But we have to be there; we are telling the story,” he said, noting, however, that journalists no longer enjoyed “exclusivity” because many people were now telling the story.
He said jailers often accused journalists of starting trouble from behind bars, but it was the masses in the streets, their dictator, oppression, or perhaps the local famine causing the problem. “We would happily be sitting in our countries and writing from our desks,” but by covering today’s conflicts, journalists became part of them. He said that, when he had been detained in Afghanistan and Libya, certain groups had arranged his release, but other reporters had been left behind. Professional journalists were part of a community of informers who deserved protection, he emphasized. If the Security Council could make an effort to recognize journalists as a humanitarian effort to tell a story, perhaps it could foster their protection.
MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said “journalists help to shape our understanding of the world”, a process that was particularly important in conflict situations. “They go where most of us are unable to go”, seeking out and bearing witness to human rights and other violations. Unfortunately, journalists, human rights defenders and representatives of non-governmental organizations continued to be targeted, he said, recalling that, in 2012 alone, 121 had been killed and more than 200 imprisoned. “States must do more not only to protect journalists, but to bring to justice those who kill them,” he stressed.
LIMBIYE KADANGHA-BARIKI ( Togo) said journalists worked in increasingly difficult situations, risking their lives to report on conflicts and violations of rights. The murder of journalists in 2012 had risen by 49 per cent over the previous year, he noted. Togo welcomed the various initiatives undertaken by regional and subregional entities, including the African Union’s convening of a workshop on the protection of journalists. Such initiatives should contribute to the establishment of a legally binding instrument guaranteeing the protection of journalists in situations of armed conflict, he said. Indeed, the protection of journalists in situations of armed conflict went beyond States, requiring the attention of the United Nations and the Security Council in particular.
LI BAODONG ( China) said that implementing the relevant Council resolution was an effective way for the international community to protect journalists in war. However, the countries concerned should assume the primary responsibility of protecting civilians in conflict on their territories, including journalists. Those causing harm to journalists should be investigated and punished in cases, and judicial systems should play their full role, as should the entire United Nations system. In that regard, China appreciated the United Nations Plan of Action, but cautioned against duplication, encouraging efficiency instead. For their part, professional journalists should abide by their code of conduct and avoid siding with one party or even inflaming violence, he said. The Council should adopt an integrated conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategy that would enhance the protection of civilians, including journalists.
GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said journalists brought the humanitarian cost of conflict into stark relief. “News stories and images make the consequences of our inaction harder to ignore,” as in Rwanda and Syria. They could help compel Governments and bodies such as the Security Council to take action, he said. Syria was a tragic illustration of the impact of conflict on journalists, while Mali had registered the biggest fall in press freedom in 2012 after the military coup there and the takeover of the north by armed groups. Parties to armed conflict must uphold all applicable international laws to protect civilians, including those applying to journalists, he emphasized. However, the Security Council itself could do more to protect journalists in conflict situations, he said, welcoming the fact that the resolution establishing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) included a reminder to that country’s Government of its obligation to protect journalists. The Council could also assist by mandating peacekeeping missions to address the freedom and protection of journalists in their support for rule-of-law institutions, he added.
GÉRARD ARAUD (France) recalled that his country had joined Greece six years ago in proposing a draft resolution that had eventually become Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) on the protection of journalists. Despite that decisive step, however, the Council’s efforts had proven far from sufficient. The year 2012 had been particularly murderous, with female journalists, and bloggers in particular, increasingly targeted and numerous journalists in Syria killed or kidnapped in the line of duty. “The challenge of protecting journalists is one that we still have to meet,” he said, emphasizing that it was the primary responsibility of States to protect journalists and punish those responsible for crimes committed against them. Peacekeeping operations should also provide better protection to journalists, in their capacity as civilians, and the Security Council must also play its role, he said.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the primary responsibility to protect journalists was borne by the warring parties, but agreed that the United Nations and other international organizations had a supporting role to play. Noting that UNESCO focused on the protection of journalists while the Human Rights Council dealt with human rights aspects of the topic, he said the task of the Security Council was to focus on issues relating to the protection of civilians. Much could be learned from the work of the media, including their reporting on the illegal smuggling of weapons from Libya into Syria and violations of the Libyan weapons embargo, he said, calling for the completion of that effort. Finally, he warned that journalists must be careful not to take “unjustified risks”, and should abide by reasonable, common sense guidelines, in addition to complying with the host country’s laws.
KIM SOOK ( Republic of Korea) said threats against journalists in armed conflict situations were deeply troubling, and their chilling effect could lead to self-censorship. The situations in Syria and Somalia were of particular concern, he said, underlining in that context that those responsible for violations against journalists should be pursued and held accountable, no matter how long it took; that greater coordination and cooperation was needed between United Nations agencies, Member States and civil society with regard to ensuring the safety of journalists; that protection should be provided for a broad spectrum of journalists; and, that the Security Council should be more vigilant about the safety of journalists and consider including in relevant documents specific language on their protection.
GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala), while asserting that the primary responsibility for protecting journalists lay with the Government of the country in conflict, said the international community must also contribute to the creation of an environment that would offer incentives to encourage States to respect the rights of journalists and impose consequences on those who might try to compromise those rights. Guatemala fully supported resolution 1738 (2006) and, as a Council member, had added its voice to the presidential statement issued last February. However, the situation on the ground was not improving, and the index of impunity for crimes against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel remained very high. The Rome Statute typified grave violations of international humanitarian law as war crimes, he said, recalling, as well, that the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute had acknowledged in many resolutions the need for States and other parties to armed conflict to protect journalists as civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg), noting that journalists were being killed in the line of duty at a nearly alarming rate, said that, in today’s interconnected world, “information reigns supreme and journalists are the principal means of delivery”. A free press was a sign of a democratic society’s vibrancy, and its absence a certain sign of authoritarianism. In times of armed conflict, the role of journalists took on yet another dimension as it contributed to ensuring that the world knew what was unfolding. At the same time, their profession was increasingly life threatening, given the unprecedented number of detained and murdered journalists. Six had been killed in Somalia so far this year, making that country one of the most dangerous in the world for media professionals, he said, adding that 51 had been killed so far in 2013, many of them in Syria. While condemning the targeting and intimidation of journalists, he said that was not enough, emphasizing that their protection must be guaranteed under international humanitarian law.
AGSHIN MEHDIYEV ( Azerbaijan) said that in exercising their profession, journalists sometimes encountered greater danger than civilians in armed conflict. Several important steps had been taken to ensure their protection, and international law set out clear provisions, he said, citing in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1949 Geneva Convention. Echoing previous speakers, he said journalists in armed conflict should be considered as civilians and, as such, protected under international humanitarian law. Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) also recognized that, insisting on their protection as long as they were not playing a direct part in hostilities. In spite of a number of other important efforts recently undertaken at the international level, acts of violence against journalists, particularly their deliberate targeting, enjoyed impunity and remained widespread, he said.
EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda) said he was alarmed by reports of failure by parties to conflict to comply with their international obligations to protect journalists, and further concerned that the violence in Syria and other countries continued to endanger journalists. In that context, the Security Council should recognize the particular vulnerabilities of journalists in its resolutions and other official documents, and include the protection of journalists in its peacekeeping mandates. “The best protection is the prevention of armed conflicts in the first place,” he emphasized, recalling that the 1994 genocide in his country was a stark reminder that “information can save lives or kill”. In Rwanda’s case, the media had infamously urged citizens to “pick up machetes” and kill their neighbours, he said.
MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) said that, despite recent efforts, attacks against journalists continued unabated. “In a world which is full of sources of information, journalism is a vital function, and unfortunately, also a dangerous one,” he said. The fundamental right of journalists to life, and to exercise their career in safety, must be guaranteed, and they must also have access to all areas where their work was required. In that context, he called upon international organizations and Member States to continue to strive for an environment conducive to the work of journalists around the world.
SAHEBZADA A. KHAN ( Pakistan) said the role of media in shaping public opinion, as well as their moral and political choices in conflict situations, was becoming increasingly decisive in the modern world. “We need to take a fresh look at contemporary threats against journalists in armed conflicts in view of the increasingly complex nature of conflict situations, the increased use of terror tactics, the blurring of boundaries between warring parties […] and new and emerging trends, such as the concept of embedded journalists,” he said. The problem was not a dearth of international legal standards and norms, but a lack of understanding and implementation. It was, therefore, important to engage in a well-coordinated and comprehensive international awareness-raising campaign highlighting existing provisions and pointing out the consequences of violating them, he said. It was also critically important to achieve the “delicate balance” between the safety and security of journalists and the need for unfettered access to conflict areas.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL( Argentina) welcomed the April 2012 approval of the United Nations Plan of Action and expressed hope that it would spur strengthened measures to protect journalists and ensure accountability. It was often said that the truth was the first casualty of war, she said, adding that it appeared that those who told the truth came next. Describing the experiences of journalists in Afghanistan and later in Syria, she called for an end to attacks on them, and the subsequent impunity, noting that 70 per cent of the more than 900 attacks on journalists had gone unpunished. Even with the necessary precautions, war correspondents were engaged in a very risky profession, she said, emphasizing, however, that that was neither a necessary condition for practising journalism, nor a necessary consequence of war.
Council President ROSEMARY DICARLO (United States), speaking in her national capacity, said the Security Council must remain well informed to fulfil its mandate, and had recently benefited from the media’s work in Libya and, currently, in Syria. But, their reporting was not without consequences, she said, noting that the Assad regime continued to kill, imprison and torture journalists. Given the value of journalists to the Council’s work, it must do all it could to protect them, she said. The Secretary-General should increase his focus on their safety in his reports, and Member States, especially those contributing to peacekeeping missions, should ensure that their judicial, law enforcement and military personnel were aware of the need to protect journalists. New and emerging technologies had transformed the way in which journalists worked, allowing wider and more rapid dissemination, she noted, stressing that all Member States must maintain and safeguard that infrastructure. The Council had an obligation to protect those who provided it with so much vital information, she added.
LUIZ ALBERTO FIGUEIREDO MACHADO ( Brazil) stressed the collective responsibility of all actors to protect media professionals, and firmly repudiated the killing, harassment, intimidation and kidnapping of journalists, as well as all other forms of violence. Combating the impunity often surrounding such attacks was another central task for parties to conflict, State actors in particular, as bringing perpetrators to justice was a strong deterrent against future violations. Protecting journalists in armed conflict also required full respect for the privacy of their professional communications, he stressed, stressing in that context that secret surveillance programmes were a source of grave concern because they violated both the human rights of individuals and the sovereignty of States. In that regard, member States of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) had decided to take a number of measures, including at the United Nations, with a view to seeking the adoption of multilateral rules for governance of the Internet, he said.
JIM MCLAY ( New Zealand), noting that truth was often the first casualty of war, said that, “in speaking truth to power, journalists in conflict situations can remedy that situation”. He said a large number of journalists killed over the last year had been “new media” practitioners — those not affiliated with traditional media organizations. Indeed, the recent “democratization of content” meant that, unlike traditional media, new media journalists might not have the same level of awareness and training on their rights, or the same levels of protection. It was not sufficient to say that the question of protecting journalists could be addressed through a six-and-a-half-year-old resolution, he stressed. “It must be operationalized in the field, allowing journalists both access to their sources and protection from harm.”
RON PROSOR ( Israel) said the news came from the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to document the bloody insurgencies and revolutions erupting throughout the Middle East. Instead of telling the story, however, they were increasingly becoming part of it. Not only must they contend with censorship, intimidation and abduction, but they were deliberately targeted for violence. From Baghdad to Damascus and from Tehran to Khartoum, journalists were beaten, raped, tortured and killed, he said. Journalism was the “public loudspeaker” for the courageous individuals who had taken to the streets demanding to be heard, yet in much of the Middle East, their voices and stories were stifled. By so doing, Arab States were restricting their ability to develop their societies and improve the lives of their citizens. Freedom of the press was woven into the very fabric of Israel’s democratic society, he said, adding that there was no shortage of media outlets reporting daily on every facet of life and, very often, demanding better of the Government and its leaders.
OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ ( Chile) said journalists in situations of armed conflict faced two problems: lack of safety and impunity. An estimated 121 journalists had lost their lives in violent incidents while doing their jobs in 2012, yet only 1 in 10 assassinations of media professionals had been investigated. Under international law, States bore the primary responsibility for protecting civilians, including journalists. That responsibility also extended to non-State actors, such as terrorists and criminal organizations, he said, stressing that combating impunity was a major challenge for the international community. States must investigate and prosecute violence against journalists as crimes against freedom of expression. Adequate international protection standards were in place, so it was not necessary to develop new ones, he said. Rather, it was time to move on to implementation, and the Council should urge a beginning.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ ( Lithuania), associating herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union delegation, noted that more than half the journalists killed in 2012 had died in situations of which the Security Council had been seized. Sadly, impunity reigned as far as such deaths were concerned, with killers walking free in 9 of out 10 cases. The international community must act in support of the relevant provisions on the protection of journalists, while bearing in mind that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defined intentionally directing attacks against civilians as a war crime. She recalled that, as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2011, her country’s Foreign Minister had brought the safety and security of journalists to the top of the OSCE agenda for the first time.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the delegation of the European Union, expressed deep concern about the worrying trend of increased violence against journalists, including bloggers, and journalistic sources in both conflict and non-conflict situations. The rising level of intimidation, violence and censorship that those professionals faced was also alarming. “A free, independent and vibrant press is a cornerstone of any democratic society,” he said, adding in that regard that the European Union was developing Guidelines on Freedom of Expression, both online and offline. He called on Governments to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently, and on States to ensure accountability by investigating attacks against journalists, including bloggers, and bringing perpetrators to justice. He also called on all parties to conflict to allow media access and coverage.
MASUD HUSAIN ( Canada) recalled the 2009 killing of Canadian journalists alongside four members of the Canadian Armed Forces in a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. The Syrian Journalists Association had documented the deaths of 153 professional or citizen journalists since the beginning of the uprising there. Efforts to bring the perpetrators of such heinous crimes to justice must continue, he emphasized. Each State should ensure a safe and enabling working environment for journalists, a burden that also rested on non-State actors who posed an ever-growing threat to the media. Journalists also had responsibilities, among them reporting events without taking unnecessary risks, he said. Canada had worked with independent media groups to provide security skills training aimed at helping help journalists protect themselves, and would continue to work with key partners to support freedom of expression worldwide.
GERHARD THALLINGER ( Austria) said that, despite the increasingly frequent targeted killing of journalists, the Security Council had not been consistent in addressing the threat. While Syria led “the charts of deadliest countries for journalists this year and in 2012”, data showed that most attacks against journalists took place in armed conflict situations that were neither traditional nor typical. Journalists reporting, for example, on organized crime, corruption, the activities of drug cartels, protests and popular uprisings easily became targets, and Austria had made their protection a priority during its membership of the Human Rights Council, he said. Together, with a cross-regional group of Member States, it had introduced a resolution last September to ensure accountability for such attacks.
EDUARDO ULIBARRI ( Costa Rica) said that abusing, kidnapping, torturing or murdering journalists was an effort to impede access to independent information about conflicts and other realities that some might wish to keep hidden. The international community had the responsibility to hold such aggressors accountable, and one of the most important tools in that respect was promoting respect for international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians, including the specific norm of Additional Protocol I on methods of protecting journalists. The relevant Security Council resolutions were also important guidelines. From a more operational perspective, the implementation and national application of the United Nations Plan of Action for the Protection of Journalists was of particular importance, he said.
DRAGANA ANĐELIĆ (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said it was essential to emphasize States’ obligation to prevent attacks against journalists and to bring perpetrators to justice, adding that sanctions and other targeted measures could play an important role in that regard. At the same time, however, there was a need to sanction unethical behaviour on the part of journalists. “Unverified or even fabricated information is often used as weapons,” she noted, recalling that hate speech had incited ethnic violence and killings in her country. It was crucial to consider steps in response to media broadcasts inciting crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she stressed.
PAUL SEGER ( Switzerland) said he had recently been interviewed by Swiss journalist Patrick Vallelian, but the interview would not have taken place had the latter not been extremely lucky to miraculously survive an incident in Homs, Syria, in 2012. Gilles Jacquier, his French colleague, had been killed, he said, citing that as just one example of the threats, assaults, abductions, disappearances and even death experienced by journalists around the world as they engaged in dangerous professional missions. Impunity, often a by-product of the political impact of their activities, was seen as the major cause of attacks against journalists, and if they were deliberately targeted, or if attacks against them went unpunished, freedom of the press would be nothing but an empty promise, he warned. Not only did journalists have a right to protection, but investigations into violence against them must be prompt, impartial and effective.
HUSSEIN HANIFF ( Malaysia) said that more often than not, the greater the risk to a journalist in his or her work, the higher the demand for their reportage. In fact, the more danger he or she was in, the more credible the story. Because of that, protecting journalists posed a greater challenge than protecting other civilians. While the main responsibility for protecting journalists lay with the State, the media industry must also shoulder its responsibility. Journalists should receive proper security briefings on conflict areas, and the industry should provide sufficient provisions and services to better protect them. Journalists themselves must be responsible, he said, pointing out that, in confusing conflict scenarios, where killings and chaos were widespread, journalists were not easily distinguishable and must, therefore, avoid putting themselves in such situations.
NKOLOI NKOLOI ( Botswana) said it was regrettable that, despite calls by the international community to respect their rights, there were reports of escalating and widespread violations against journalists working in conflict situations. The existing international legal framework provided a realistic basis for the protection of journalists in such situations. “We call on all warring factions across the world, irrespective of their character and formation, to abide by these normative frameworks,” he said. States must also put measures in place to ensure respect for and protection of journalists, in particular by enacting and aggressively enforcing laws punishing serious violations of human rights, as set out in The Hague Conventions, the Geneva Conventions, as well as in their respective Additional Protocols.
MIGUEL CAMILO RUIZ ( Colombia) said it was of utmost importance that the bodies of the United Nations system become fully familiar with the work of national Governments when establishing priorities for their own work and informing the Organization. “ Colombia understands that freedom of speech and the media is a pillar of democracy,” he said, adding that journalists enjoyed special treatment, as per the Constitution. In 2010, Colombia had issued the 1426 Act, by which it had implemented measures to counter criminal actions against the rights of legally protected groups, such as human rights defenders and journalists.
MICHEL SPINELLIS (Greece) said that depriving or endangering the life of journalists was “an extreme form of censorship”, not only because it silenced one voice, but because it aimed — and usually succeeded — in intimidating others. The root cause of targeting journalists remained, in most cases, their reporting on unsettling truths and exposing crimes. The perpetrators, whether political autocrats, criminal organizations or terrorist groups, had something to lose when a journalist brought their illegal actions to the fore, he said. States had the necessary legal instruments to protect journalists, as did the United Nations. The Plan of Action was a practical approach to journalists’ safety and the issue of impunity, and establishing an inter-agency coordination mechanism to help countries guarantee freedom of expression was an important feature. Combating impunity would reduce the unusually high incidences of deaths, abductions and detentions, he said, adding that civil society’s role in protecting journalists was also crucial, with several such groups having dedicated themselves to that cause.
RYSZARD SARKOWICZ ( Poland) said citizen journalism had contributed greatly to the political changes in Tunisia and Libya. Moreover, journalism still gave hope to people struggling under undemocratic regimes while also alerting the international community. The protection of journalists should cover all news providers, both professional and non-professional, as well as journalistic sources. It should also extend to periods of both peace and conflict. Poland had consistently raised the issue at the international level and supported activities promoting freedom of expression and raising awareness of the significance of a free media environment. However, more must be done to address the root causes of violence against journalists, and preventive mechanisms must be designed.
HERMAN SCHAPER (Netherlands), associating himself with the delegation of the European Union, echoed the sentiment that journalists, including bloggers, were still all too often the target of aggression, harassment, arbitrary detention and even extrajudicial killings. The adoption of Security Council resolution 1738 (2006), though an important step, had not put an end to attacks on reporters. “More needs to be done,” he said, adding that intentional acts of violence against journalists were unacceptable, and must be condemned, as well as prosecuted. Thanks to the advent of the Internet, everyone could now reach large audiences with their stories or footage, and “citizen journalism” had become an important source of information during conflict.
Real-time images often had an important impact, which also made them an attractive for manipulation, he said. The Netherlands had, therefore, decided to encourage new means of journalism and to contribute to the protection of its messengers. That encouragement included financial support for the development of the “StoryMaker app”, an application that enabled citizen and professional journalists in conflict areas immediately to share their stories by mobile phone with millions of people around the world without endangering their independent and safe reporting. The country was also working to protect journalists through the establishment of the Freedom Online Coalition, a cross-regional group of 21 countries committed to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, offline, as well as online.
BASHAR JA’AFARI ( Syria) said his Government had been working to treat the media openly, adopting a reformed media law that guaranteed greater freedom and transparency. Access had been granted to 300 members of the international media, all of whom were working freely in Syria. To ensure their safety, the Government had asked them to avoid dangerous parts of the country controlled by terrorist groups, such as the one that had abducted Richard Engel. Some journalists were infiltrating Syria over its borders, which was illegal, he said, noting that official letters had been sent to the Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council informing them about journalists who had gained illegal access to Syrian territory. Those journalists alone would bear responsibility for the consequences of their actions, he emphasized.
He said some Governments sought to serve their geopolitical aim of destroying the Syrian State through a widespread media campaign urging violence and terrorism, spewing lies and sowing violence and terrorism. He urged the Council to put an end to such incitement and provocation. Describing attacks on journalists and media personnel in his country, he said the “media war” had not stopped there, but had been exacerbated by an embargo created by the decision of the League of Arab States to stop broadcasting on certain channels. Despite that ferocious campaign, many journalists had, nonetheless, worked towards exposing terrorist attacks in Syria, including those carried out by foreign mercenaries. Many honourable journalists had resigned from the chain inciting hatred and carnage in Syria, Egypt and other countries, he added.
ASOKE KUMAR MUKERJI ( India) said that, as the world’s most populous democracy, his country’s ingrained awareness of the rights of journalists was an integral part of its participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations. Notably, peacekeepers not only helped to restore peace and security, but they also facilitated the creation of an environment conducive to freedom of speech. Recommending certain basic precautions for the protection of journalists in conflict situations, he said they should function first and foremost within the domestic laws of the countries concerned, and gain access to conflict zones in a legal manner. Additionally, they should maintain strict neutrality and impartiality, and not become a party to the conflict, he stressed.
ABDOU SALAM DIALLO (Senegal) said that with 600 killings of journalists over the past decade, including 121 in 2012 alone, the situation of both permanent and freelance media workers was “going from bad to worse” as they suffered abduction, intimidation, illegal arrest, harassment and rape, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Journalists played a crucial role in bringing the truth to light and in raising awareness about the full extent of a security situation and its underlying causes. The information relayed by the press could not excuse the reprisals they suffered, and a comprehensive approach must be established to strengthen their protection and hold accountable the perpetrators by punishing them to the full extent of the law. Commending the United Nations Plan of Action, he said its relevance lay in its vision of the role of journalists in maintaining peace.
DAVID ČERVENKA ( Czech Republic), associating himself with the delegation of the European Union, expressed deep worry about continuing restrictions of free expression and independent journalism by State and non-State actors in some countries. The escalating trend of harassment, arrests, torture and prosecution of journalists around the world was also worrying. It was absolutely crucial for Member States to respect and ensure respect for the applicable rules of international humanitarian law on the protection of journalists, he said, recalling in that regard that article 79 of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Convention clearly spelled out that “journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians”.
SIGNE BURGSTALLER ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries, said that the presence of journalists often helped to prevent atrocities, yet many journalists and other media workers were persecuted during armed conflicts precisely because of their work. In light of the worsening situation over the last decade, the Nordic countries welcomed the creation of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, particularly its concrete implementation strategy at the global and national levels. They also welcomed the Human Rights Council’s first resolution on the safety of journalists, adopted in 2012. “We, the international community, must demand and ensure that the protection under international law given to journalists […] is fully respected and upheld,” she said.
XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA ( Ecuador) condemned all deaths of civilians and non-combatants, including journalists, caused by “collateral damage” arising from actions not directed against military targets and sometimes guided by remote control. The presence of reporters in armed conflicts allowed society to comprehend the horror of war and distinguish between the true aggressors and peoples exercising their right to self-defence and self-determination, he said. Independent and truthful journalism must be protected. However, when journalists engaged in propaganda, for instance by embedding themselves in military units, they were subject to censorship, and therefore, to the risk of masking war crimes. Such ethical considerations should not be sidestepped, he emphasized, warning also against the risk of politicizing the protection of human rights and of journalists by taking the issue to eminently political organs such as the Security Council.
JULIO ESCALONA ( Venezuela) said diplomacy and dialogue, not the use of force, were the most appropriate means of protecting civilians and the best guarantee of peace. The United Nations must be an impartial mediator, and its peacekeeping operations must be part of the political solution, not an alternative. He expressed concern about Council resolution 2098 (2013), which established an intervention brigade with responsibility to neutralize certain armed groups and reduce the threat they posed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. While Venezuela stood by the Congolese Government and people, and rejected atrocities carried out by certain groups, it feared that the brigade might set an “unfortunate precedent”, he said, warning also that drones were being used for reconnaissance in that country with very few guarantees that they would not become instruments of war in the near future. He clarified that the term “media personnel” did not imply only to the staff of media conglomerates, but also to individuals and groups from workplaces and locales engaged in exposing abuses.
JUN YAMAZAKI (Japan) said it was important that the Security Council hear perspectives directly from journalists who had worked in the field and who had broad experience in covering active conflicts, even in the face of grave personal danger. Protecting journalists meant shedding light on suffering, informing people of the truth and contributing to the improvement of conflict situations, he said. Despite the Geneva Conventions and the adoption of Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) and the United Nations Plan of Action, however, challenges to the implementation of those frameworks remained, particularly with regard to impunity.
YEGOR PYVOVAROV ( Ukraine) said the events of the Arab Spring, especially in Syria, and alarming news from other countries demonstrated “the real price we pay for the opportunity to know the real situation on the ground inside the zones of conflict”. Journalists purposely entered areas from which others were fleeing in order to provide the latest news. That had been true in the case of the Ukrainian journalist Anhar Kochnyeva, who had recently returned home from Syria after having been held captive for almost six months, he said. While Ukraine supported the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists, strengthening the activities of non-governmental organizations could also become an important element in ensuring journalists’ security. However, the problem was not the absence of an international legal framework, but the lack of a specific mechanism for its implementation, he said, emphasizing that it was extremely important to elaborate and adopt a concrete distinction between journalistic activity during armed conflict and espionage.
SHIEKH MESHAL HAMAD M.J. AL-THANI ( Qatar) expressed deep regret at the rampant violence against journalists, which had increased greatly in recent years, saying his region had witnessed the biggest share. In Syria alone, 45 journalists had been killed in the past two years, and others faced oppression, torture and other breaches by organs of the Syrian regime, using draconian measures to quell the popular uprising against it. The State-run media campaign was still trying to misguide the world about what was going on inside the country, and a similar situation was going on in occupied Palestine. Qatar was keen to enhance freedom of expression and to upgrade media professionalism, convinced of the decisive role that information played in enlightening societies and protecting freedoms, he said.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTY SOLIZ ( Bolivia) stressed the need to distinguish between activists and journalists and, at the State level, to protect the lives of the latter group. The number of media professionals killed was on the rise, while the perpetrators enjoyed impunity. Misuse of information was another weapon of armed conflict, he said, citing as an example the international news images of rebels arriving in the Green Square of Tripoli, Libya, in 2011. He said he had learned later that the scene had been filmed on a set. Such use of journalism as propaganda risked the lives of journalists, he noted. Rather than being objective, such reporters became part of the conflict, distorting reality and putting their lives at risk. Recalling that MERCOSUR had recently condemned “massive spying”, he said it also risked journalists’ lives by revealing their sources, among other things. The United Nations should promote global governance for digital networks, which were unfortunately in private hands or under the control of a small number of States.
RICHARD NDUHUURA ( Uganda) underscored the need to redouble collective action for the prevention of conflicts, their peaceful resolution and the protection of civilians, with national authorities and non-State actors bearing the primary responsibility. Outlining some of the many factors involved in the responsibility of journalists working in conflict situations — including the need for professionalism and objectivity, and the risks to “embedded” journalists — he nevertheless stressed the need to devise more effective strategies for their protection. The United Nations Action Plan and Security Council resolution 1738 (2006) should be underpinned by greater awareness of existing international instruments and conventions, the emerging threat to journalists in conflict and practical guides on the safety of journalists, he said.
LEVENT ELER ( Turkey) said that his country had become a hub, hosting journalists on their way to cover the conflict in neighbouring Syria. Turkey did its best to support them and facilitate their easy passage, in addition to doing its utmost to grant access to those wishing to report on Syrian refugee camps inside Turkey. Since 2011, 406 foreign journalists had been received in the public areas of the camps, where they had been allowed to film and conduct interviews, he said. Additionally, Turkey had extended a helping hand to domestic and foreign journalists who had been kidnapped or wounded, most recently in Syria and Libya. However, legal and administrative gaps in addressing the protection of journalists persisted at the national and international levels, while problems relating to implementation and enforcement remained, he pointed out. Preventing conflict was the only sustainable solution in the protection of civilians and journalists, he stressed, adding that “it is the duty and responsibility of the international community to act collectively and decisively towards this end”.
* *** *For information media • not an official record