Safety of journalists, human rights and sustainable development on the agenda of a panel discussion in Geneva

23 September 2016

As part of the build-up to commemorating the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI) on 2 November 2016, a panel discussion took place on 23 September in Geneva, during the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC). The event provided an opportunity to address linkages between the safety of journalists and the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of SDG 16, Target 10 stipulating “to ensure public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms”.

With more than 800 journalists killed for bringing information to the public since 2006, the issue of safety of journalists has gained momentum at HRC. In this light, the IDEI side event in Geneva added impetus to including the safety of journalists and ending of impunity within international human rights law, and to encouraging concrete measures to promote and protect freedom of expression around the world. This will be done within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which has been agreed by the UN Chief Executive Board and welcomed by the UN General Assembly.

With the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the meeting was particularly timely in regard to ensuring the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Noting that the safety of journalists and ending impunity are significant elements for SDG 16 target 10 “to ensure public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms,” the discussion addressed this linkage.

Frank La Rue, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, who was a keynote speaker at the Panel, stated: “Safety of journalists was initially a human rights issue. It was then a fundamental issue for citizens’ participation and democracy. And with SDGs agenda, it has become a fundamental issue for development, which depends on public access to information.”

To further underline the breadth of attention to the safety of journalists, the meeting debated the importance of adding systematic reference to the safety of journalists and the end of impunity in the review of the human rights situation for countries in the HRC Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism. The value of UN Member States responding to regular requests from the UNESCO Director-General for updated information on the judicial review of killings of journalists was also discussed.

“Since SDGs have been universally recognized, it is important to set-up national safety mechanisms in all countries around the world,” said Mr La Rue.

The IDEI side event recommended to stress the importance to implement country-based information systems and other institutional mechanisms to tackle the “three Ps” as promoted by UNESCO: Prevent violence against journalists, Protect journalists in danger, and Prosecute the perpetrators.

Through making new linkages with the SDGs as well as with the UPR, the event helped to foster safety of journalists and strengthen the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists at international and country level.

Other panellists included Peggy Hicks, OHCHR’s Director for Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development; Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19; Abby Rose Zeith, Legal Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross; Nina Larson, Journalist from AFP. Ambassador Thomas Hajnoczi, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations Office at Geneva, moderated the Panel.

The event received the support of Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco and Tunisia.