A worldwide coalition of NGOs, media outlets, journalists and prominent public figures are supporting Reporters Without Borders (RSF) initiative for the creation of a Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary General for the safety of journalists. It is an urgent issue for all those who want to end violence against reporters and defend access to information around the world.
A vital need
- Ensuring the safety of journalists is essential to safeguard the public’s access to information that is freely reported, independent, pluralistic and reliable. This is as true in peacetime as it is in wartime or during a pandemic. Nonetheless, journalism is now badly obstructed or restricted in no fewer than 132 countries, according to the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
- Although more attention is being paid to combating impunity for crimes of violence against journalists, the impunity and abuses keep on growing.
At least 1,059 journalists have been murdered in the past ten years, and 387 were arbitrarily detained at the end of 2020, according to RSF. The rate of impunity for crimes of violence against journalists is still around 90%. Threats and hate speech against journalists are flourishing online, as well as disinformation. And women journalists are being targeted both as journalists and as women.
- The United Nations’ mechanisms for addressing this issue are inadequate and a political will to take concrete action is conspicuous by its absence in many States.
The UN’s creation of a network of focal points is not sufficient. We are still waiting for the “single, strategic and harmonised approach to the issue of the safety of journalists and the impunity of perpetrators of crimes against them” proposed in the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, that was adopted in 2012. The UN’s programmes and agencies lack the coordination, resources and authority needed to promote actions proportionate to the gravity of the situation. The obvious goodwill demonstrated by the relevant specialised bodies and mandate holders is not enough.
A proportionate response
- RSF’s campaign for the creation of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Safety of Journalists (SRSJ) aims to challenge this status quo and finally raise the cost of crimes against journalists. This new position will help to improve the impact, transparency and efficacy of UN actions in defence of journalists. It will demonstrate its effectiveness by helping to get journalists released, establish protective measures and contribute to the administration of independent justice against perpetrators.
Strong support yet to be concretized
- In February 2016, Irina Bokova, then Director-General of UNESCO, was one of the first to lend her support to this initiative. During an official meeting with RSF in February 2017, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres undertook to appoint an SRSJ. At the UN General Assembly in September 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron specifically called for “the appointment of a special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the protection of journalists throughout the world.” The German parliament backed RSF’s initiative in June 2017. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans expressed his support for the creation of such as position in December 2017, as did European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in May 2018. An Independent High-level Panel Of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, which had been initiated by the UK and Canadian governments, recommended creating a Special Representative for the safety of journalists in its November 2020 report entitled “Advice on promoting more effective investigations into violence and other crimes against journalists”. The German foreign ministry confirmed its support for this campaign in December 2020. Many international press freedom and human rights NGOs also support this demand.
RSF’s appeal to States committed to the safety of journalists:
RSF calls on those States that support the Special Representative proposal to:
- make provision for the position’s creation in the UN General Assembly biennial resolution on the safety of journalists, which will be considered during the GA’s 76th session in December 2021;
- bring this request to the UN Secretary-General’s immediate attention;
- undertake efforts within different international forums to promote the creation of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General;
- set an example by undertaking to contribute financially to the SRSJ’s budget.
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