Journalists do face grim challenges in their reporting whilst, there is a sharp rise noticed in the attacks against them worldwide. These attacks became a phenomenon due to the impunity for those aggressors. There is clear lack of accountability and there is failure from organisations concerned with journalists in their pursuit to offer proper advocacy and protection.
Ensuring accountability for violence against journalists is vital to preventing the recurrence of such attacks, and is a basic guarantee for free press, which allows documenting this phenomena without journalists fearing that they may pay their lives or being imprisoned for the rest of their lives because of the work they do.
Despite the adoption of the first UN action strategy to address the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity in 2012, and the UN’s General Assembly adoption of “The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists” at its 68th session, on 2 November 2013; violations against journalists are growing dangerously. As we are approaching the anniversary of the murder of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013, hundreds of journalists have been assassinated, killed and wounded. The latest journalist to be killed was Daphne Galizia, who was killed by a bomb attack which targeted her car in Malta.
In light of the absence of clear mechanisms to adopt specific measures to end impunity for violations targeting journalists and their safety, the scope of violations against journalists throughout the world has also expanded over the last decade, with a series of violations against the safety and security of journalists reported by human rights organizations including killings, enforced disappearance and detention, torture, intimidation, harassment, threats and exile, as well as closure, prevention and confiscation of institutional and individual equipment and devices used by the press.
The sharp increase of violations is attributed to the significant deterioration in the status of public and press freedoms in particular in the Middle East, which is accompanied by the escalation of political and security crises.
For example, about half of the 850 journalists killed in the past 10 years have been killed in Syria over the past seven years. This is accompanied by high rates of impunity. According to the recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 90% of the killings have been done with an impunity.
Equivalent to that, strict censorship of media institutions, journalists and activists by the security services and intelligence agencies operating in most Middle Eastern countries have taken an upward trend. Some countries have resorted to provocative decisions against other countries and considered expression of opinion on social media outlets to be sympathetic, and punishable by law, including imprisonment for a long time and imposing a high fine.
In what seems to be a regional coordinated effort, hundreds of news websites and websites aimed at bypassing blackout, were shut down. In Egypt alone, the Egyptian government closed more than 400 websites, while hundreds of journalists were detained in its prisons. At the time 29 journalists were in Israeli jails, Israel has systematically targeted radio stations, satellite channels and broadcasters.
These unfortunate events and the lack of protection and considerations concerning journalists make the question of international responsibility and intervention regarding these lost rights a priority. Why United Nations organizations and the international community do not play an active role in combating impunity for crimes against journalists?
The increasing dangers and high indicators of violations that threaten the lives of journalists, confirms that the mere enactment of laws and declarations of convictions are not enough to protect journalists, but rather, there should be strong bodies and institutions which monitor the implementation of these rules. The United Nations bodies should intervene to stop violations against the rules of international and humanitarian laws, to make sure concerned bodies abide by it, through applying deterrent international mechanisms.
Taking into account the responsibility of various actors, which undoubtedly have a responsibility towards journalists, such as the state and its institutions, governmental and non-governmental bodies, the media and even the journalists themselves, it could be said that the development of new mechanisms and the creation of more effective and practical methods and movements, protect the media and freedom of expression, and makes it go beyond the circle of condemnation to the circle of action. To enhance the ability of journalists to practice the profession of journalism safely is a key issue to ensure public access to information and to protect the fundamental freedoms set forth in the international conventions. In particular, the right to freedom of opinion and expression is a human right granted to all, in accordance with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that the safety of journalists is a fundamental factor in civil, political, economic, social, cultural and development rights.
To ensure real progress towards this end, practical mechanisms and a clear program should be in place to identify the next steps to be implemented to identify the responsibility of the due protection of all relevant actors in the field.
The proposed measures within the United Nations plan on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity should also be implemented aimed at building a free and secure environment for journalists and media professionals during times of conflict and other situations in order to consolidate the foundations for peace, democracy and development around the world.
Among these measures is the identification of the role of United Nations agencies and programs in combating the impunity of perpetrators of attacks against journalists and addressing the root causes of this phenomena.
This also includes seeking to promote the cohesion of United Nations through the development of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to follow up on the issue of journalists’ safety and impunity and to include the issues of journalists’ safety and impunity for those responsible for the attacks against them in United Nations country strategies.
The promotion of cooperation between United Nations agencies and other intergovernmental organizations at the international and regional levels should also be promoted and the inclusion of media development programs, in particular programs on the safety of journalists, should be promoted in the strategies of these bodies.
In addition, the UN member states should be pushed to enact legislation and mechanisms to ensure the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of information, to fully implement existing international norms and principles, to play an active role in preventing attacks against journalists and to take rapid measures to address the establishment of a fund that supports the prosecution of journalists and seeks to address these legal measures at domestic and international courts to bring justice to journalists, and to refer clearly to countries that violate the rights of journalists and are reluctant to provide them with the necessary protection. As the United Nations have a shame list for the violators of children’s rights, a shame list for countries violating the rights of journalists should be activated.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights should have its work boosted and supported by other UN agencies in addition to key International organisations. Those bodies should unite in their efforts to provide proper protection to journalists especially those in the war-torn areas. Their work will help stressing the binding status and the responsibility, powers and resources of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion, David Kaye.