Protection of Journalists
Expected Council Action
In July, the Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on the protection of journalists featuring briefings by representatives of the media. At press time, a concept note was expected to be circulated shortly, but it was unclear whether there would be an outcome. This will be the first time the Council considers this issue in a separate meeting since the adoption of resolution 1738 on the protection of journalists on 23 December 2006.
Resolution 1738 was adopted at the initiative of France and Greece (an elected Council member at the time) to remind parties to armed conflict of their legal obligations with regard to the protection of journalists. It condemned and called for an end to intentional attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, while recalling that they shall be considered as civilians and shall be respected and protected as such. The resolution also emphasised states’ obligation to prevent such attacks and the need to bring to justice those responsible.
In addition, the Council expressed its willingness to consider, when authorising missions, measures in response to media broadcasts inciting genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law. It also requested the Secretary-General to include as a sub-item in his next reports on the protection of civilians the issue of the safety and security of journalists.
The Secretary-General’s subsequent report on the protection of civilians (S/2007/643) of 28 October 2007, contained a separate section on the protection of journalists, expressing concern about the increasing number of journalists killed or injured while reporting from conflict situations. Also, when the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2008 updated the Aide-Mémoire on the protection of civilians that had been endorsed by the Council in 2001 to facilitate consideration of protection-of-civilians concerns in country-specific situations, it added the protection of journalists and the use of speech to incite violence among the concerns the Council should consider.
The Secretary-General’s later thematic reports on the protection of civilians also addressed issues relating to the protection of journalists, albeit not in a separate section. In his most recent report (S/2012/376 of 22 May 2012), the Secretary-General reminded the Council of the need, as expressed in resolution 1738, for parties to conflict to prevent attacks against journalists and to prosecute those responsible for such attacks, and he expressed disappointment about the Council’s lack of engagement in this regard. According to the report, since the adoption of resolution 1738 the Council had expressed concern about attacks against journalists in only one situation-specific resolution, concerning Afghanistan, and then it did not call for any action in response. (Renewals of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan note with concern the continued restrictions on freedom of media and attacks against journalists.) Citing recent initiatives in the Human Rights Council (HRC) to ensure better protection of journalists, the Secretary-General suggested that the Council should develop a more “proactive approach” to the issue.
In the period since the report was published, attacks against journalists seem to have increased, in particular in two situations on the Council’s agenda: Somalia and Syria. According to a recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, 70 journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2012, an increase of 49 percent from 2011 and one of the highest numbers on record. While not all of these deaths occurred in situations of armed conflict, 28 journalists were killed in Syria and 12 in Somalia, the two deadliest countries by far in 2012.
In response to these developments, there was some Council action. On Somalia, the Council in resolution 2067, of 18 September 2012, for the first time specifically condemned violence against journalists and then in resolution 2093, of 6 March, emphasised the obligations of the government of Somalia with respect to the protection of journalists.
With regard to Syria, the Council, in a presidential statement adopted on 21 March 2012 (S/PRST/2012/6) and in resolution 2042 adopted on 14 April 2012, expressed its support for the six-point plan proposed by the joint UN/Arab League Envoy, which among other things called on the government to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists.
Also, in its presidential statement on the protection of civilians of 12 February (S/PRST/2013/2), the Council for the first time since the adoption of resolution 1738 specifically addressed the protection of journalists in a thematic decision. It expressed deep concern about violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel and called for an end to such practice. It also recalled the main provisions of resolution 1738.
While the Council has overall not been very proactive on protection of journalists, other significant initiatives have recently taken place elsewhere. On 13 April 2012, the UN Chief Executives Board adopted a UN action plan on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. A UN inter-agency meeting in Vienna from 22-23 November 2012 agreed on an implementation strategy for the action plan, to be coordinated by UNESCO.
On 27 September 2012, the HRC adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists, stressing the need to ensure greater protection for all media professionals. Among other things, it asked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a compilation of good practices regarding the protection of journalists, the prevention of attacks and the fight against impunity.
A key issue for the Council is whether further steps can be taken to enhance implementation of resolution 1738 and improve protection of journalists on the ground. A related question is whether UN missions can play a greater role.
Another issue is whether the Council has any role to play in relation to the 2012 UN action plan.
Options for the Council include:
- inviting UNESCO’s Director General to brief on the UN action plan on the protection of journalists and its implementation strategy, along with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; and
- adopting a presidential statement aimed at strengthening the protection of journalists.
Among other things, a presidential statement could:
- reiterate key provisions of resolution 1738;
- welcome the UN action plan;
- express the Council’s intention to ensure that the protection of journalists is integrated into the mandates of relevant UN missions; and
- request that briefings and reports to the Council on relevant country-specific situations include information about attacks against journalists and that the Secretary-General’s next report on the protection of civilians contains recommendations on how to strengthen the protection of journalists.
It appears that the idea of having a meeting on the protection of journalists initially came from the UK. For practical reasons it preferred not to schedule such a meeting during its own presidency in June and therefore proposed it for July instead. While there is generally strong support among Council members for the protection of journalists (several Council members were co-sponsors of the HRC resolution), some seem less enthusiastic than others and do not necessarily believe that it is a central protection issue.
UN Documents on the Protection of Journalists
|Security Council Resolutions|
|6 March 2013 S/RES/2093||was on the situation in Somalia.|
|18 September 2012 S/RES/2067||was on the situation in Somalia.|
|14 April 2012 S/RES/2042||was on the situation in Syria.|
|23 December 2006 S/RES/1738||was on the protection of journalists.|
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|12 February 2013 S/PRST/2013/2||was on the protection of civilians.|
|21 March 2012 S/PRST/2012/6||was on the situation in Syrian.|
|14 January 2009 S/PRST/2009/1||was on the protection of civilians, endorsing the revised Aide-Mémoire proposed by OCHA.|
|22 May 2012 S/2012/376||was a report on the protection of civilians which encouraged the Council to develop a more proactive approach to ensure the protection of journalists.|
|Human Rights Council Document|
|27 September 2012 A/HRC/RES/21/12||was the resolution on the safety of journalists.|