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Protection of Journalists

UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL

Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

 

Thank you, Madam President, for convening this very important debate and to the Deputy Secretary-General. I would also like to thank our guest speakers for their compelling testimonies, each of which underscores the indispensable role journalists play in bearing witness to conflict, and the extraordinary risks they take – knowingly – to report to us. I only hope our own comments don’t fall too short of the strength of the imperatives they have identified.

Every year more journalists are being killed in bringing news and information to the people. The majority of these victims are local media workers covering local stories. In most cases, these killings go unpunished – often almost unnoticed.

Journalists in conflict situations face unique risks. Whereas local populations may flee areas of intense fighting, journalists are drawn toward them.  For reporters, proximity is necessary to ensure objective, first-hand reporting of the causes and consequences of conflict, and to challenge partisan views. 

Journalists are often the first to draw attention to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights. History shows that the deliberate targeting of journalists is a tactic often employed by parties to a conflict who do not want their actions exposed: a precursor to a situation spiralling out of control.  

Journalists bring the humanitarian cost of conflict into stark relief.  News stories and images make the consequences of our inaction harder to ignore. Ideally, they can compel governments and bodies such as this Council to take action, although this is not always the case as we see today in Syria.  But they did for instance help create the environment for the adoption of the principle the responsibility to protect civilians against mass atrocity crimes.

Syria provides a tragic illustration of the impact of conflict on journalists. It is now the most dangerous country on earth for journalists. 41 died there in 2012 – some of them deliberately targeted.

Mali registered the biggest fall in press freedom in 2012 after the military coup and the takeover of the north by armed groups. 

Of course, it is not just traditional journalists that face threats.  Those engaged in new media, citizen reporters, bloggers, also find themselves in danger.  The rights of freedom of expression, opinion and association must be respected both online and offline.

Parties to armed conflict must uphold all applicable international laws to protect civilians, including those that apply to journalists.  

They must do their utmost to prevent violations of international humanitarian law against journalists. The Council acknowledged this in resolution 1738 (2006).  Our recent Presidential Statement on Protection of Civilians (PRST/2013/2) in February reiterated the Council’s resolve in this respect.

But we believe the Council can do more to protect journalists in conflict situations.

As the Secretary-General noted in his most recent report on protection of civilians (S/2012/376) the Council has made very few references to attacks against journalists in situation-specific resolutions.

So we welcome that the Council’s resolution to establish UNSOM included a reminder to the Government of Somalia of its obligation to protect journalists.  This should be a template.

The Council can also assist by mandating peacekeeping missions to address the freedom and protection of journalists in their support to rule of law institutions. And, as Togo has just recommended, ensuring the necessary training for peacekeepers.

Where it emerges that journalists have been attacked in serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law, the Council must look at ways to act to end impunity. 

We welcome the 2013-2014 Implementation Strategy for the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed in February, as a strong mechanism that will help countries promote the safety of journalists in conflict situations. With its focus on national capacity-building, we encourage its early implementation.

Madam President

Attacks on journalists are, like all attacks on civilians, an attack on humanity. They are also an attack on the international community’s ability – indeed need to understand and respond effectively to conflicts that threaten international peace and security.  Truth need not be the first casualty of war. And journalists need not be – should not be – casualties of conflict.

Thank you, Madam President.

 

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