UN expert calls for special protection of journalists
June 22, 2012 1 Comment
Journalists should be afforded special protection after an increase in the number of attacks on the press, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression said on Wednesday.
Frank La Rue presented a report on the promotion and protection of the right of freedom of opinion and expression to the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva.
La Rue highlighted the increasing restrictions – including threats, harassment, beatings, and in the worst case, death – imposed on journalists working outside conflict zones, with violations against journalists covering street protests and demonstrations at an all-time high.
Online journalists and bloggers were also said to face additional forms of harassment and intimidation, such as monitoring their online activities, arbitrary arrests and detention, echoing the rise of citizen journalists covering the Arab Spring and more recently, Syria.
“Journalism is a service to society – they [journalists] deserve the protection for the services they provide. The fact is, [journalists] are exercising their right to seek and receive and impart information, and they are also facilitating the right of society in general to receive information, to strengthen democracy,” he said.
“When we talk about special protection it should not be to the detriment of anyone else. All human rights should be protected. But some people fall into situations of bigger danger because they are playing a social function.”
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, also presented a report to the Human Rights Council, which stated that two thirds of the deaths of journalists happened outside of armed conflict.
La Rue and Heyns’ reports showed that journalists covering corruption, drug trafficking, demonstrations and environmental issues were most at risk from attack with impunity from both state and non-state actors.
Heyns stressed that the plight of local journalists, who are at greatest risk of attack away from international scrutiny, should be taken note of on a broader international scale.
He said that most journalists were killed in countries with the highest level of impunity.
Nine out of ten killers of journalists around the world go free, according to INSI figures.
“Impunity is the largest factor in the safety of journalists,” said Heyns.
“Prosecution takes place on a local level, especially if the situation [of the country] has deteriorated in recent years. To elevate these problems on an international level is to make sure impunity is addressed.”
The International News Safety Institute is a major player in backing moves for safety and against impunity. In 2006 it helped secure the passage of UN Resolution 1738 which calls for the safety of journalists in armed conflict.
INSI has also played a key role in assisting the Special Rapporteurs in their reports and also in the UN inter-agency conference on the safety of journalists worldwide.
Dunja Mijatovic, representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), also on the panel of experts, said:
“I find it quite worrying that in the 21st century we still have to worry about issues of safety.
“If somebody is harassed or intimidated or put behind bars, not to mention killed, it’s a matter that we should all be aware of, something that is in the public interest.
“This is another attempt to bring it back to the international agendas.”