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United Nations: Secretary General Calls for Greater Protection of Journalists’ Rights

(Nov. 5, 2015) On November 2, 2015, to mark the second International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for action against the killing of journalists with impunity, noting that “[m]ore than 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade – one every five days – simply for bring news and information to the public.” (International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, 2 November: Secretary-General’s Message for 2015, U.N. website; Alexis Wheeler, UN SG Urges Protections for Journalists’ Rights, PAPER CHASE (Nov. 2, 2015).) Ban defended journalists’ right to report freely, without government censorship and without self-censorship done out of fear for their lives. He pointed out that only 7% of cases in which journalists were “deliberately silenced” for their efforts to report the truth have been resolved, with “less than 1 crime out of 10” even being fully investigated. (International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, 2 November: Secretary-General’s Message for 2015, supra.)

Ban also commended the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its role in leading the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which was endorsed by the U.N. Chief Executives Board on April 12, 2012. (UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, CI-12/CONF.202/6, UNESCO website (last visited Nov. 3, 2015); UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, UNESCO website (last visited Nov. 3, 2015).) The goal of the Plan of Action is to create “a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide.” (UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, supra.) It includes, among other measures, the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism for handling matters related to journalists’ safety, the provision of assistance to countries in developing legislation and mechanisms that foster freedom of expression and information, and the lending of support to countries’ efforts to implement the relevant existing international rules and principles. (Id.)

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists was proclaimed by resolution of the U.N. General Assembly on December 18, 2013, with the aim of underlining “the urgent need to protect journalists” and commemorating in particular the assassination in Mali on November 2, 2013, of two French journalists. (Id.; G.A. Res. 68/163, The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (Dec. 18, 2013), U.N. Website.) The resolution “[c]ondemns unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, as well as intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.” (Id.)

The resolution also calls upon U.N. Member States to do all they can to prevent such violence and “to ensure accountability through … impartial, speedy and effective investigations into all alleged violence against journalists and media workers falling within their jurisdiction and to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies.” At the same time, it urges the Member States “to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference,” by such means as legislation; awareness-raising of judicial, law enforcement, and military personnel, among others, as to international human rights and humanitarian law provisions on the safety of journalists; the monitoring and reporting of attacks against journalists; public condemnation of attacks; and dedication of resources necessary for the investigation and prosecution of those attacks. (Id.)