In an oral statement to the 27th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, ARTICLE 19 has urged UN Member States to adopt a strong resolution on ending impunity for attacks on journalists and media workers.
“Journalists and media workers perform an essential role in society, including by exposing and reporting on human rights abuses, organised crime, corruption and other serious forms of wrongdoing, but in doing so they are exposed to reprisals,” Andrew Smith, Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19, said in delivering the statement.
The oral statement to the UN’s principle human rights body characterises the failure by States to ensure accountability for attacks on journalists and media workers as “an assault on freedom of expression and democracy itself.”
The oral statement draws on the 2012 Joint Declaration of UN and regional special procedures on crimes against freedom of expression to identify five core areas where action is required to end impunity for attacks on journalists. These are:
- Prevention and prohibition;
- Independent, speedy and effective investigations and prosecutions;
- Remedies for victims, and
- Mobilisation and support of other civil society actors.
The oral statement goes into depth on the specific measures that should be implemented by States at the domestic level in each of these areas.
Draft resolution on safety of journalists
ARTICLE 19’s strategic intervention comes as UN Member States enter a second week of negotiations on the text of a draft resolution on the safety of journalists, with Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Qatar, and Tunisia leading the intiative.
The present draft of the resolution strongly condemns impunity for attacks on journalists and media workers, and identifies it as one of the principle causes of recurring violence. The resolution also recognises the vulnerability of journalists to unlawful surveillance, and the importance of privacy to journalists’ work. Importantly, the resolution sets out concrete guidance to States on the measures they should take to end impunity, including to:
- promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work without undue interference;
- ensure impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations, that also seek to bring masterminds behind attacks to justice, and to ensure victims have access to appropriate remedies;
- create special investigative units and specialised prosecutors, and adopt specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution, as well as trainings for key actors in the investigative and prosecutorial processes;
- systematically collect data to inform policy making on safety of journalists; and,
- establish protection mechanisms, including early warning and rapid response systems.
Building upon these strengths, ARTICLE 19 has urged States to further bolster the resolution during the final two weeks of negotiations, including by integrating the following elements to it:
- explicitly recognise that impunity for attacks on journalists and media workers is not just an attack on the rights of an individual, but an attack on the right of all people to seek, receive and impart information. Ending impunity is therefore part of the State’s obligation to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression;
- acknowledge the essential role journalists perform in society, including by, inter alia, investigating and reporting on human rights abuses, organised crime, corruption and other serious forms of wrongdoing, terrorism and national security;
- call upon States to ensure, as part of their obligation to prevent, a legal framework that respects the right to freedom of expression and information, including by decriminalising sedition, defamation and insult laws, and to guard against abuse of national security, secrecy, and anti-terrorism laws to hinder or endanger the work of journalists contrary to international human rights law;
- call upon States to ensure training for a greater range of relevant actors, including law enforcement authorities;
- call upon States to also provide safety training to journalists, for example through the curricula of journalism schools, and where necessary provide specific training to at-risk journalists, in particular for smaller independent, community and/or indigenous media outlets and for freelance journalists;
- call upon States to ensure that protection mechanisms are established tailored to regional, local and individual circumstances and challenges, including by involving journalists and media workers in the design and monitoring of those mechanisms, to enhance trust in such mechanisms and improve their effectiveness;
- call upon States to encourage and support other responsible stakeholders in monitoring and responding to attacks on journalists and media workers, including journalists and media workers themselves, media organisations and civil society;
As well as the 2012 Joint Declaration, these recommendations find support in the concluding paragraphs of the reports of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights related to the safety of journalists (see here, and here), as well as the work of special procedures in this field.
What must the Human Rights Council do?
ARTICLE 19 urges the Council to adopt a strong resolution on ending impunity for attacks on journalists and media workers, focused on giving practical guidance to States on the various concrete actions that should be employed to ensure the safety of journalists.
We also call on States to support national, sub-regional and regional, and international human rights mechanisms and bodies, including the universal periodic review, special procedures, and treaty bodies, in promoting and protecting the safety of journalists. In particular, they must cooperate with UNESCO and respond positively to their enquiries for information regarding measures taken to ensure the safety of journalists.