What's In Blue

Posted Tue 16 Jul 2013

Open Debate on Protection of Journalists

Tomorrow morning (17 July) the Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on the protection of journalists under the agenda item, Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson is expected to brief the Council on the UN’s activities related to the protection of journalists. Four prominent journalists – Richard Engel (NBC), Kathleen Carroll (Associated Press/Committee to Protect Journalists), Mustafa Haji Abdinur (AFP) and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (The Guardian) – have also been invited to speak on their personal experiences as journalists in conflict situations. No outcome is anticipated.

The United States, Council president this month, has circulated a concept paper in preparation for the debate. The concept paper states that the debate will provide Council members with the chance to consider the frequency of attacks against journalists and related personnel in conflict situations. It also recognises the indirect role the media plays in providing useful information to Council members. The paper argues that the debate will remind participants of the need to hold those who commit violence against journalists in conflict situations accountable for their actions. Finally, it proposes potential topics that Council members may wish to address in their statements, including, inter-alia, best practices, efforts to fight impunity, and the role of civil society with respect to the protection of journalists.

This will be the first Council meeting focused solely on the issue of protection of journalists. The one resolution on this issue, resolution 1738, was adopted on 23 December 2006 following a more general debate on protection of civilians. It seems that the idea for tomorrow’s debate came initially from the United Kingdom, the lead on protection of civilians in the Council, but it was unable to convene such a meeting during its own presidency in June. As this is also an issue of interest to the US, it decided to take it up during its presidency of the Council this month.

Several issues are likely to be raised in the discussion. Some Council members have been concerned about the apparent rise in attacks against journalists since the Secretary-General’s last report on the Protection of Civilians (S/2012/376 of 22 May 2012). The high rate of violence against journalists in two situations on the Council’s agenda, Somalia and Syria, has been particularly worrisome as well. Thus, the need to enhance the safety and security of journalists in armed conflict will probably be discussed in the debate.

A related issue that is on the minds of some Council members is how to strike a balance between safety and security on the one hand and freedom of access on the other. Along these lines, the debate may cover possible strategies to resolve this tension. (This could include, for example, ideas on how to educate governments and armed groups on the importance of protecting journalists and providing access, while also encouraging journalists to respect appropriate safety procedures and protocols.)

Another issue also highlighted in the concept note and which may come up in tomorrow’s debate is the need to combat impunity and hold the perpetrators of violence against journalists accountable.

In general, there is strong support on the Council for the protection of journalists. Some members view this debate as an opportunity to build on resolution 1738 and the presidential statement on the protection of civilians (S/PRST/2013/2) from February this year in which Council members expressed “deep concern about acts of violence against journalists, media professional and associated personnel in armed conflict, … and (called) upon all parties to armed conflict to put an end to such practice.” A number of Council members were likewise co-sponsors of the resolution adopted last September in the Human Rights Council on the protection of journalists (A/HRC/RES/21/12), and several are very supportive of the 2012 “UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity”, which is based on input provided to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by UN funds, programmes and agencies. Additionally, there appears to be growing concern about this problem in specific countries on the Council’s agenda. In the last year the Council has condemned violence against journalists in resolutions on Afghanistan and Somalia.

While the Council is supportive of this issue, there nonetheless are some members who may be more circumspect regarding Council engagement. Among this group, there is the view that as the organ responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, the Council needs to ensure that its focus is limited to the protection of journalists solely in armed conflict, rather than in broader contexts. (In this sense, there may be discussion on the relationship between terrorism and armed conflict.) Some of these members likewise seem to question how deeply the Security Council should engage on this topic, as it is already being treated in other parts of the UN system, notably the Human Rights Council and UNESCO.

Looking ahead, some Council members may decide to take up the issue of protection of journalists during the Council’s next debate on the more general thematic issue, Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, most likely in December. It appears that the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on this matter, which Council members anticipate receiving in November, will include a detailed sub-section on the protection of journalists.

Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Sign up for What's In Blue emails