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United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Statements

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

New York, 27 May 2015 - Deputy Secretary-General Open Debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict: Protection of Journalists in Conflict Situations

I thank you for this opportunity to address the Security Council on the protection of journalists in conflict situations. This issue is fundamentally about the right to information, about protection of civilians, about respect for human rights and about not giving in to threats and intimidation from those who advocate and practice violence and intolerance.

In recent years we have seen a deeply troubling rise in the number of journalists killed in conflict situations. Of the 593 cases of killings of journalists between 2006 and 2013, almost half -- 273 -- occurred in conflict zones. Journalists are also being increasingly targeted and subjected to threats by criminal or terrorist groups, with the blatant intention to silence them.

Recent killings of journalists have been given extensive and welcome attention around the world, recall for instance the brutal murders of Western media representatives in Syria. Yet, we must not forget that around 95 percent of the journalists killed in armed conflict concern locally-based journalists, with far less media coverage.

The Security Council and the Human Rights Council have been presented with findings that illustrate the extent of the problem from South Sudan to Libya, from Syria to Somalia and beyond.

Against this background of this sober reality, it is not surprising that countries facing armed conflict and a breakdown of the rule of law are ranked in the bottom part of the very important annual World Press Freedom Index from Reporters Without Borders, and here I want to commend Secretary-General Deloire and Reporters Without Borders for their work. .

We know that armed conflict not only endangers the life and safety of journalists. 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.

Conflict and insecure environments must never be a pretext for silencing journalists – on the contrary. It is precisely in these situations where the voices of the voiceless and reports from the frontlines must be heard loud and clear.

Ensuring the safety of journalists requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. The challenges for journalists reporting from an armed conflict situation may not be the same as for those who are engaged in other forms of reporting.

Women journalists may face challenges different from their male colleagues. The security situations of foreign correspondents may differ from those of locally-based journalists.

Further, corruption, intimidation, reprisals and weak judicial systems, all of which contribute to impunity, must be seriously tackled if we are to deal with the roots of the problem. The same goes for the basic need for a culture of respect for human rights and rule of law.

Let us also remember that the safety of journalists is of concern in non-conflict zones as well. Ensuring their protection can be of the essence if we are to prevent conflict and human rights violations.

As we know, threats and attacks are committed by both State and non-State actors, often to silence journalists seeking information or opinions on subjects perceived as off-limits -- such as human rights violations, political repression or  drug trafficking, to name a few.

The United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity aims to help tackle these challenges.  The Plan is being piloted and laid out in several countries, including Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan and South Sudan.

Members of the Security Council have a critical role in advancing this agenda.  Let me briefly and in closing point to five ways you can do so. 
First, by unequivocally and consistently condemning the killing of journalists in conflict situations, including locally-based journalists.

Second, by continuing to hold regular debates on the protection of journalists. I encourage you to continue to hear the views journalists and affected families, like Mariane Pearl civil society organizations and relevant UN and regional mandate holders.

Third, by encouraging Security Council-authorized missions to also look into safety of journalists and media workers as part of protection of civilians mandates, reporting back to the Security Council on their findings.

Fourth, by encouraging Security Council-authorized missions to ensure that freedom of expression and the safety of journalists are integral parts of human rights and justice reforms.

And fifth, and lastly, by endorsing and supporting the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

Occasions such as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (2 November every year) can also be better utilised to draw attention to these problems.

The UN System will continue to assist the Security Council in all these efforts, including by bringing to your attention situations of concern in this area in a timely and proactive manner.

It is our shared responsibility to protect the voices that alert, the voice that warn and the voices that inform on situations threatening international peace and security. 

Thank you.

Statements on 27 May 2015