Irene Khan spoke at the UN Security Council today on the protection of journalists around the world. Below is her statement.

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Statement of Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

Security Council Arria-formula meeting on the protection of journalists

May 24, 2022

Ambassador Byrne, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, 

Thank you for this opportunity to brief the members of the UN Security Council. 

Killing journalists to silence them is the most egregious form of censorship. Shireen Abu Akhleh was one of 40 journalists killed in Palestine over the last decade. Last year Afghanistan topped the list of countries where journalists were killed. Since the beginning of this year, thirty-six journalists and other media workers have been killed worldwide, nine of them in Ukraine. Yesterday in a meeting with a group of Ukrainian journalists, one of them said to me she felt that her jacket marked “press”, far from protecting her, made her a target.    

Whether in conflict or non-conflict situations in almost nine out of ten cases the perpetrators are never brought to justice. The failure of States to investigate, prosecute and punish crimes against journalists is not only a denial of justice, but an encouragement to perpetuate the cycle of violence. 

At the root of the problem lies a deeper crisis of press freedom. From imprisonment to abductions, from electronic surveillance to online violence, especially against women journalists, journalism is under attack. Criminal laws against sedition, libel, terrorism and “fake news” are used in many countries to punish and silence journalists. 

In a number of countries, independent media is effectively non-existent because of tight State control. In some countries, including some liberal democracies, we see a visible backsliding on media independence, freedom and pluralism. 

Measures to control online disinformation and hate speech are being used to restrict legitimate journalism, on the one hand, while on the other hand, incitement to violence and hatred are being allowed to proliferate online. 

Press freedom is being chilled even where journalists are not being killed.

Professional, ethical, independent journalism is a public good, a pillar of democracy and a tool of accountability. By collecting and sharing reliable information, journalists fulfill society’s right to know as well as individuals’ right to freedom of expression. Good press coverage can provide early warning of conflict, expose atrocities during conflict and contribute to building public understanding of peace and reconciliation processes. 

International human rights and humanitarian law provide ample protection to journalists. The problem is not one of gaps in international law but of the lack of political will and compliance by States. That requires the international system to reinforce its monitoring, reporting, support to Member States and where necessary and appropriate, enforcement to ensure compliance. 

Allow me to highlight a few specific recommendations:

First and foremost, UN SC must unequivocally reaffirm its call to all States – and indeed all parties to a conflict – to uphold their international human rights and humanitarian law obligation to protect journalists and ensure their safety.  

Secondly, the SC must strengthen the fight against impunity. It must call on States to investigate fully, promptly and independently all attacks against journalists in line with international standards. The International Criminal Court (ICC) must intervene when the national system fails, but in situations where the ICC is not an appropriate remedy and yet impunity is rampant, the UN must consider other measures, such as establishing an independent international investigative mechanism, enhancing the capacity of existing United Nations human rights mechanisms, using targeted sanctions and strengthening national capacity, including of legal, judicial and civil society organizations. 

Thirdly, both States and the international community must invest in free, independent, pluralistic and diverse media through a range of measures. Furthermore, UN missions must prioritize support to strengthen press freedom and safety of journalists as an integral part of the sustainable development agenda. The SG’s Global Digital Compact must include a commitment by all stakeholders – including internet intermediaries – to respect press freedom and safety of journalists.

All this is not a tall order, it is a small price to pay for peace, security, democracy and human rights.

ENDS

The UNSC also heard from:

  • John Williams, Board of Directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists
  • Abderrahim Foukara, Al-Jazeera Network Bureau Chief for the Americas
  • Joshua Melvin, Correspondent for Agence France-Presse