Statement at the Arria-formula Meeting on Protection of Journalists
Statement24 May 2022
Colleague, the legendary war correspondent, Marie Colvin – who was killed on assignment in Homs in 2012 – said that the role of the media is shining a light on, and I quote, “humanity in extremis, pushed to the unendurable". Throughout modern history, journalists have risked their lives to capture the realities of conflict and communicate the horrors of war.
Journalists and media workers are quite simply indispensable to our work in the Security Council. Peace and security, freedom of expression and a free and independent press are inextricably linked.
Our efforts to uphold democracy, to monitor human rights abuses, and to identify emerging conflicts would be a fraction of what they are without the information we receive from journalists. The fact is we need journalists to shine a light on the truth.
Yet, today, the very journalists we speak about are being harassed online and offline, are being arbitrarily detained, spied upon, attacked, and, even as we have heard, murdered.
In the early hours of 11 May, Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while on assignment in Jenin in the occupied Palestinian territory. She was a hero to aspiring journalists, an exemplary reporter in the field. We send our condolences to her family and to her colleagues, including those who join us today.
At the time of her killing, Shireen was on duty in a blue press vest. A symbol which denotes civilian status. A symbol that demonstrates to parties to conflict that journalists are not a target. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has called for an independent investigation into her killing and for the perpetrators to be held to account. That call needs to be answered without delay.
Shireen’s shocking and untimely death has once again drawn the world’s attention to the dangers faced by journalists and media workers daily. It should also be a rallying call for all of us to say that the targeting or the silencing of independent journalists anywhere is simply unacceptable.
Over the last three decades, over 1500 journalists, a staggering number, have lost their lives as they were reporting the truth. And in the last year, we’ve seen, we have heard, chilling stories and images from the frontlines of crises which journalists face daily.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban’s takeover has decimated the hard-fought space for a free press. Hundreds of journalists have fled the country. Many of those who remain are in hiding, fearful of beatings, arbitrary arrest, or worse. Women journalists have been singled out, targeted and discriminated against. Hunted down. We cannot accept this.
As Russia continues to wage its brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, we have seen journalists targeted for simply doing their job, and killed in indiscriminate attacks. This includes Irish cameraman, referred to by Jon earlier, Pierre Zakrzewski and his Ukrainian colleague, Oleksandra Kuvshynova, both of whom were killed on 14 March when their vehicle came under fire. Others have been blacklisted. Their crime? Their determination to reject mistruths and to instead report the reality of this unjustified war.
Journalists have long been the international community’s early-warning system. Drawing attention to emerging conflicts, human rights abuses and atrocity crimes, including genocide. Many are human rights defenders. In return for bearing witness, journalists have been detained or expelled on arbitrary grounds from increasingly totalitarian countries.
Just last month in Mali, Radio France International and France 24 were suspended following reporting on human rights violations.
Last week, The Economist reporter Tom Gardner was expelled from Ethiopia, this follows the ousting of Irish journalist Simon Marks of the New York Times, and numerous reports of arrests of Ethiopian journalists.
Since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, the operating licenses of independent news outlets have been banned and journalists have been arbitrarily detained with worrying reports of torture and abuse.
In Somalia last November, the Radio Mogadishu journalist known as Adiaziz Afrika was hunted down and murdered by Al Shabaab. This was not an isolated incident. Somalia is considered to be the most dangerous country in Africa for reporters.
These examples are just a snapshot of the dangers journalism faces in situations on our Security Council agenda. They are part of wider trends of attacks against freedom of expression and media worldwide.
The expansion of the online space and technology has been integral for receiving real-time information about conflict, broadening our abilities to react rapidly, verifying crimes. But it has also increased avenues for harassment, surveillance through powerful software, and targeted abuse and attacks.
Women journalists face particular dangers as they carry out their work. They are targeted with misogynistic hate speech and often with sexual and gender-based violence. Journalists from minority backgrounds face disproportionate levels of abuse.
We often discuss the protection of civilians in conflict in the Council. And to be clear –as per Resolutions 2222 and 1738 – journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in conflict zones are civilians. They must be protected and respected as such. Yet impunity is rampant. That will persist if we do not act.
This Council must seek to ensure the protection of civilians and compliance with obligations to do so under international law. Many peacekeeping missions are mandated to protect civilians. This is an active responsibility. We must take it seriously. We must do more.
We call on our fellow members of the Security Council to take heed, take heed, of what we heard from our briefers today and to uphold Resolutions 1738 and 2222, to protect journalists and media professionals working in armed conflict, to secure accountability for crimes against them, and to ensure a free and independent press.
When UN Missions report to this Council, they should report on the protection of journalists. The UN could also explore assessments of protection mechanisms for journalists, and support monitoring of attacks on press freedom and freedom of expression. This includes taking online threats seriously, and addressing them swiftly.
Make no mistake. Journalists are integral to upholding human rights. Journalists are integral to the pursuit of justice and truth. Journalists are integral to sustainable peace. It is high time that the Security Council treated them as such.