Protection of Civilians
Expected Council Action
In late May, the Council is expected to hold an open debate at ministerial-level on the protection of journalists in conflict situations, which will be chaired by Linas Linkevičius, Lithuania’s foreign minister. UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is expected to brief. Other briefers will include Christophe Deloire, the Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders, and a journalist from a conflict-affected country. The Secretary-General’s report on the protection of civilians, which is produced once every 18 months, will likely be transmitted to the Council in early June, and thus will not be available prior to the debate.
At press time, a resolution was a potential outcome.
Background and Key Recent Developments
The Council has focused on the protection of journalists over the years, albeit sporadically. It has adopted one resolution specifically on this issue. Resolution 1738, adopted on 23 December 2006, condemned intentional attacks against journalists and associated personnel. The resolution recalled that journalists and associated personnel must be considered civilians and urged parties in a conflict to prevent abuses against them and to respect their professional independence and rights. It also 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.
In 2013, the protection of journalists garnered some attention among Council members. The Council expressed concern about acts of violence against journalists in its 12 February 2013 presidential statement adopted during an open debate on the protection of civilians. This adoption marked the first time the Council had specifically addressed the protection of journalists in a thematic decision since resolution 1738. It also focused on the issue in one open debate on 17 July 2013 and in an Arria-formula meeting on 13 December 2013.
Several journalists were killed in conflict situations in 2014, with the Council responding to these events with press statements. In 2015, the Council has issued three press statements in response to the killings of journalists. On 7 January, it condemned the attack on the Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people, including 10 media professionals; on 25 January, it deplored the murder of a Japanese journalist by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Syria; and on 1 February, it deplored the murder of another Japanese journalist by ISIS, also in Syria.
Journalists continue to face significant danger in conflict zones around the world. According to Reporters Without Borders, in 2014, 69 journalists were killed in the line of duty. The six most deadly places for journalists last year were country-specific situations addressed by the Council: Syria (15 deaths), Iraq (four), Ukraine (six), Palestine (seven), Libya (four) and Somalia (four). Thus far in 2015, 22 journalists have been killed; 12 of them died in country-specific situations regularly addressed by the Council, including South Sudan (five), Iraq (two), Yemen (two), Syria (one), Ukraine (one) and DRC (one).
On 4 November 2014, the third UN inter-agency meeting on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity was held in Strasbourg. (The first two inter-agency meetings on this matter were held in September 2011 in Paris and in November 2012 in Vienna. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity—which is designed to create “a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations”—was produced at the Paris meeting and approved in April 2012 by the UN Chief Executives Board.) The November 2014 meeting—which was co-hosted by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe—focused on implementation of the Plan of Action during 2013 and 2014. Following the meeting, 23 civil society organisations issued a statement in which, inter alia, they encouraged greater consistency at the country-level in implementing safety measures, emphasised the need to adhere to decisions of regional bodies to combat impunity and noted the importance of enhancing awareness of the Plan of Action among UN entities and member states.
In preparation for the debate, Lithuania is drafting a concept note that is expected to be circulated in early May.
One key issue is what steps can be taken to enhance implementation of resolution 1738 and improve the protection of journalists on the ground. While recognising the importance of protecting international journalists, a related issue is how to protect national journalists, who are the victims of attacks in the overwhelming majority of cases.
Another key issue is whether UN peace operations can play an enhanced role in protecting journalists.
Also an important issue is whether the Council can play a role in the implementation of the UN Plan of Action.
One option is for the Council to adopt a resolution on the protection of journalists that:
- deplores attacks on journalists in conflict areas and highlights the high rate of impunity for these crimes;
- condemns the rising threat to the safety and security of journalists posed by terrorist groups;
- identifies the specific risks (i.e. sexual violence) facing female journalists in conflict zones and calls for efforts to enhance awareness of these risks and develop strategies to mitigate them;
- calls on media organisations to ensure that journalists receive proper training and are furnished with necessary safety equipment, underscoring in particular the efforts in this respect of local media organisations whose staff are most susceptible to violence; and
- requests that issues related to the protection of journalists be more consistently addressed in Secretary-General’s reports in relevant country-specific situations.
The Council could also request prior to the open debate that, as part of Eliasson’s briefing, an overview be provided on the next steps in the implementation of the UN Plan of Action.
Several Council members believe that the protection of journalists in armed conflict is an important issue worthy of the Council’s engagement. Some likewise note that over the years, this issue has been addressed only sporadically in the Council, and, given the high rate of attacks on media personnel in conflict zones, they would like to see more consistent reporting from the Secretariat on the matter in country-specific and thematic contexts. Of particular concern to Council members is the fact that perpetrators of attacks on journalists are usually not held accountable.
In spite of support for the issue, some members note that the Council should address this issue strictly in the context of armed conflict. This was a point, for example, that Russia made during the last debate on the protection of journalists in July 2013 and is consistent with resolution 1738.
At press time, a resolution appeared to be a possible outcome, but those most supportive of this option were keen to ensure that any Council outcome builds on the language of resolution 1738.
The UK is the penholder on the protection of civilians.
|Security Council Resolution|
|23 December 2006 S/RES/1738||This resolution condemned intentional attacks against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, and requested that the Secretary-General include as a sub-item in his next reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict the issue of the safety and security of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|12 February 2014 S/PRST/2014/3||This presidential statement reiterated the Council’s commitment to the protection of civilians and contained as an annex an updated aide mémoire.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|30 January 2015 S/PV.7374||This was the open debate on the protection of civilians with a particular focus on the protection challenges of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings.|
|17 July 2013 S/PV.7003||This Security Council Meeting Record was on the protection of journalists.|
|17 July 2013 S/PV.7003 (Resumption 1)||This Security Council Meeting Record was on the protection of journalists.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|1 February 2015 SC/11762||Condemned ISIS for the murder of a Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto.|
|25 January 2015 SC/11752||This press statement condemned ISIS for the murder of Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa.|
|7 January 2015 SC/11727||This press statement condemned the terrorist attack against the headquarters of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, causing numerous deaths among journalists, media professionals and associated personnel, as well as of two policemen.|