What's In Blue

Posted Mon 23 May 2022

Arria-formula Meeting on the Protection of Journalists

Tomorrow (24 May) at 4:30 pm EST in the ECOSOC Chamber, Ireland will host an Arria-formula meeting on the protection of journalists. The expected briefers are Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Jon Williams, Managing Director of News and Current Affairs at RTÉ, Ireland’s national public service media organisation; Abderrahim Foukara, Al Jazeera Network Bureau Chief for the Americas; and Joshua Melvin, a Washington-based correspondent for Agence France-Presse. The meeting will be open for participation by Security Council members. Non-Council members are invited to submit written statements, to be included in a written compilation summarising the meeting.

The concept note prepared by Ireland ahead of tomorrow’s meeting emphasises that media freedom and journalists’ safety are under grave threat globally, including in situations on the Security Council’s agenda. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)—an independent non-governmental organisation which promotes press freedom and defends journalists’ rights—at least 28 journalists were killed due to their work in 2021 and at least 18 journalists have hitherto been killed in 2022.

The concept note says that while states hold primary responsibility to protect journalists and ensure that those who target them are held accountable, the Security Council should consider ways to promote accountability for crimes committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations on its agenda. In this regard, it mentions resolution 2222 of 27 May 2015, in which the Council condemned all violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict. The resolution emphasises the need to combat impunity for attacks against journalists, enhance reporting on violence against journalists, and improve international coordination to strengthen the protection of journalists. It also recalls that journalists who are engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians and respected and protected as such.

Tomorrow’s meeting aims to provide Council members with an opportunity to take stock of the protection of journalists in situations on the Council’s agenda and to discuss the implementation of resolution 2222. The concept note proposes the following questions for Council members’ consideration in preparation for tomorrow’s meeting:

  • How can the Security Council assist states in addressing the prevalent impunity for crimes against journalists and make appropriate use of relevant accountability mechanisms?
  • How can the Security Council and UN missions in the field, including peacekeeping missions, work to help assure the safety of journalists in fragile and conflict situations, and help to facilitate their freedom of movement?

At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and Council members are expected to highlight the dangers faced by journalists in several situations, including Ukraine, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Mali and Somalia.

The concept note for tomorrow’s meeting references the 11 May killing of the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead while reporting for Al Jazeera on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin. Israeli and Palestinian officials have presented conflicting narratives about the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s death. Israeli authorities have claimed that Abu Akleh was killed during an exchange of fire between IDF soldiers and Palestinian militants. While Israeli officials initially asserted that Abu Akleh was likely to have been killed by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, preliminary findings of an inquiry into the incident presented by the IDF on 13 May acknowledged, as another possibility, that she was killed by “errant IDF sniper fire”. Independent assessments have challenged this account and Palestinian officials and witness statements accused Israeli forces of killing Abu Akleh in cold blood. Al Jazeera producer Ali al-Samoudi, who was wounded during the incident, said that “there was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene”. The Palestinian Authority—which refused to take part in a joint investigation proposed by Israel and is in possession of the bullet which killed Abu Akleh—is carrying out its own probe. Today (23 May), Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyadh al-Maliki announced that the Palestinian Authority has asked the ICC to start an investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.

On 13 May, Security Council members issued a press statement strongly condemning Abu Akleh’s killing, calling for accountability and for an immediate, thorough, transparent, fair and impartial investigation. While the statement represents a rare display of consensus in the Council’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian file, it seems that agreement on the text was reached only after draft language supportive of press freedom and the protection of journalists that was opposed by China was removed.

Several speakers are likely to underscore that the war in Ukraine has severely compromised the safety of journalists in the country. Joshua Melvin, who has recently covered the war, may describe his first-hand experiences of the dangers journalists face in the field. According to the CPJ, at least seven journalists have died while covering the war. In a 4 May joint statement, representatives and rapporteurs on the freedom of expression from various international organisations, including the UN, the African Commission of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), expressed concern about the safety of journalists, media workers and associated personnel in Ukraine. The statement said that these individuals are “at a very high risk”, citing reports indicating that journalists and media workers in Ukraine “are being targeted, tortured, kidnapped, attacked and killed, or refused safe passage from the cities and regions under siege”.

Journalists have also faced persecution and been subjected to attacks in Afghanistan, particularly following the Taliban’s seizure of power in August 2021. According to a database maintained by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) observatory of killed journalists, 13 journalists were killed in Afghanistan during 2020 and 2021. In a statement issued on 3 September 2021, a group of human rights experts from the special procedures of the Human Rights Council called on all states to provide urgent protection to Afghan journalists and media workers. The statement described Afghanistan as “one of the most dangerous countries for journalists” and referred to reports of killings of journalists and their family members, as well as instances of home raids, threats and intimidation, and noted that these incidents “have sharply increased in recent months”. This trend appears to have continued this year. In a 7 April tweet, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that “arbitrary and incommunicado detentions of journalists and media workers by the Taliban show no sign of abating” and indicated that the “UN urges Taliban to halt their intimidation of media”.

The Council has held meetings focused on the protection of journalists in conflict situations on several occasions, including a 27 May 2015 high-level debate organised by then-Council member Lithuania, during which the Council adopted resolution 2222, and a 17 July 2013 open debate spearheaded by the US. In December 2013, France and then-Council member Guatemala organised an Arria-formula meeting to take stock of the implementation of resolution 1738 of 23 December 2006—the first Security Council resolution that focused on the protection of journalists, which requested the Secretary-General to include a sub-item on the safety and security of journalists in his annual reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In addition, the Council has discussed the need to protect journalists in meetings on country-specific situations and in thematic meetings on the protection of civilians. Tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting takes place during the “protection of civilians week” (23-27 May) and ahead of the Council’s annual debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, which will take place on 25 May.

While Council members are united in condemning attacks and violence against journalists, some members have reservations over including language in Council products that may broaden the scope to such issues as the protection of media freedom. In addition, during the negotiations on resolution 2222, it seems that Russia opposed the inclusion of language on the responsibility of parties to armed conflict to ensure the protection of those engaging in dissemination of information through the internet or social media. In its statement at the 2015 debate, Moscow asserted that “blurring the concept of what a journalist is” by including references to those who disseminate information on the internet “will not improve the effectiveness” of the efforts to protect journalists.

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