UN HRC: States must end impunity for attacks on journalists

General Debate on Item 3

Oral Statement 

16 September 2016

Delivered by Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19

Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19 is alarmed that in 2015 alone 114 journalists were killed:

  • In Bangladesh, there has been no justice for the murder of bloggers Niloy Neel (7 August 2015), Ananta Bijoy Das (12 May 2015), Washiqur Rahman (30 March 2015) and Avijit Roy (26 February 2015); 
  • In Somalia, Sagal Osman, a woman broadcaster, was killed on 8 June 2016;
  • In Ukraine, award-winning investigative journalist Pavlo Sheremet was murdered by a car bomb on 20 July 2016, and no one has been charged for this crime; 
  • Journalists in exile from Ethiopia since January 2016are facing increased harassment and intimidation in Kenya, without redress;  
  • In Myanmar, there has been no justice for the suspected torture and killing of journalist Par Gyi (4 October 2013); 
  • In Burundi, journalist Jean Bungirimana, is suspected to have been forcibly disappeared or killed, and was last seen on the 22 July 2016. 

A 90% rate of impunity for crimes against journalists in recent years remains a predominant trend. 

Attacks against journalists must be unequivocally condemned, by this Council and by public officials at national and local levels. Rather than tacitly endorse attacks on journalists, the Philippines President should secure accountability for the 39 journalists killed in the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre. 

Even in countries that have initiated reforms to address impunity, there has been a lack of political will and adequate resources for their effective implementation: 

We are also concerned about violence against journalists reporting on protests, including on human rights violations and abuses in the policing of protests: 

  • In Brazil, we are concerned by an August 6 court decision denying redress to photojournalist Sérgio Silva for serious injuries inflicted by an unlawfully discharged rubber bullet while he covered a 2013 protest in Sao Paulo. Placing responsibility on a journalist for reporting a dangerous situation, rather than on the authorities for violating the law, signals impunity to military police in Brazil, who routinely use excessive and unlawful force against protesters, without regard to the rights of journalists. 

In  2014, approximately 221 journalists were imprisoned. The arbitrary arrest and detention of journalists, often through the abuse or misuse of national security, public order, sedition, criminal defamation, blasphemy, or insult laws, adds to a climate of fear and impunity:

  • In Iran, at least 32 journalists, including Isa Saharkhiz, Ehsan Mazandarani, and Saman Safarzaei and blogger Vahid Asghari, are currently in prison. 
  • In Turkey, emergency powers have been abused to detain over 115 journalists in pre-trial detention. 

Journalists cannot rely on authorities to keep them safe if those same authorities seek to put them in prison.

Threats against journalists go beyond physical threats. In particular, online anonymity and encryption tools are increasingly vital to keep journalists and their confidential sources safe. States must ensure strong protections in law and practice to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, subject only to limited and clearly defined exceptions and only where authorized by judicial authorities. 

We call on the HRC to act to address the disparity between the safety of journalists standards adopted in this room, and the reality for journalists on the ground.