For development, tackle impunity for crimes against journalists

As the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) prepares a new resolution on the safety of journalists, UNESCO Director for freedom of expression and media development, Guy Berger, this week underlined the links to the UN developmental agenda.
“The safety of journalists depends on ending impunity for attacks on freedom of expression,” Berger told a side event at the HRC 27th session in Geneva on Wednesday, 17 September. “And, the fight against impunity dovetails directly with the Outcome Statement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under discussion at the General Assembly,” he added.

Speaking on a panel organized by the press freedom NGO, ARTICLE 19, Berger referred directly to the draft text of the 16th Goal about promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, justice for all and effective, and accountable and inclusive institutions. He proposed that addressing impunity for the killings of journalists was the key to resolving the following of Goal 16’s sub-goals:

  • 16.1 significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere
  • 16.3 promote the rule of law at the national and international levels, and ensure equal access to justice for all
  • 16.a strengthen relevant national institutions, including through international cooperation, for building capacities at all levels, in particular in developing countries, for preventing violence and combating terrorism and crime

“By explicitly mainstreaming the protection of journalists into these SDGs, a message will be sent out more widely that violence in other social instances will not be tolerated.”

Dealing with the “visible journalistic tip of the iceberg” would also make it easier to achieve the aspirations of sub goal 16.10, which aims “to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms,” said Berger.

The UNESCO Director highlighted the opportunity of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists set for 2 November. “This Day opens the possibility to link journalism safety and impunity to the broader concerns that are held by judges, prosecutors and lawyers”.

A linkage to the rule of law, of direct relevance to development issues, is the precise purpose of a conference in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg set for November 3, said Berger. “The conference will be followed by a review meeting of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which UNESCO is mandated to lead”.

The UN Plan, which has operated for two years as a framework for joined-up action amongst all stakeholders, also stresses the inclusion of safety and impunity issues within the wider UN development agenda.

Speaking on the same panel event in Geneva, Russian journalist Gregori Shvedov called for new mechanisms and actors to investigate crimes against journalists. Prima Jesus Quinsayas, a private prosecutor in Phillipines’ Ampatuan massacre almost five years ago, which left 32 journalists murdered, stated that impunity was deeply entrenched in her country.

ARTICLE 19’s legal office, Andrew Smith said that nine of 10 murders of journalists had gone unpunished in the last 10 years. He praised a recent statement by international rapporteurs on freedom of expression, which urges stronger protection for journalists covering conflicts.

The new UN HRC statement on the safety of journalists is likely to be finalized by 26 March.