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Journalists should not be silenced, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured or killed for telling 'inconvenient' truths, urge UN experts

Silenced for telling 'inconvenient' truths

21 June 2012

GENEVA (21 June 2012) – Two United Nations Special Rapporteurs joined forces today to urge world governments, the international community, and journalists and media organisations to act decisively on the protection of the right to life of journalists and media freedom. “Attacks against journalists are attacks against democracy,” they stressed.

In two reports* to the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, pointed out that there is an unacceptably high number of attacks against journalists and others disseminating news, ranging from arbitrary arrests, torture and killings, to sexual violence against female journalists.

Mr. La Rue made a particular reference in his report to “the continuing repression of journalists and media freedom worldwide, aimed at suppressing information deemed ‘inconvenient’, and increasing restrictions placed on journalists who disseminate information through the Internet.”

“States continue to utilize criminal laws on defamation, national security and counterterrorism to suppress dissent and criticism, including on Government policies, human rights violations and allegations of corruption,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. “Such ‘judicial harassment’ generates a climate of fear and encourages self-censorship.”

“While the death or the plight of foreign journalists in armed conflict situations frequently attracts the attention of the international community,” he added, “it is the local journalists who face daily risks and violations on their rights in situations that have not reach the threshold of armed conflict, but may be characterized by violence, lawlessness and/or repression.”

The Special Rapporteur on summary executions underscored that impunity is “a major, if not the main, cause” of the high number of journalists killed every year. “The countries where the highest numbers of journalists are killed are also, almost without exception, those with the highest levels of impunity,” Mr. Heyns said.

“It is hard to imagine a world without journalists. Without their work, humanity would be reduced to silence, and yet a large number are killed every year with almost total impunity,” he stressed, noting that journalists are among the persons who receive the most death threats.

“While the current international legal framework provides the required normative protection of journalists, the main challenge lies in its full implementation and application of international norms in domestic law and practices,” Mr. Heyns noted.

In their reports, the two human rights experts offer specific recommendations to governments and the international community, as well as journalists and media organisations for the prevention of recurrent killings and death threats. Their recommendations deal with material, legal, and policing measures of protection, ranging from public condemnation of attacks against journalists, support for press freedom by high-level State officials and greater accountability to fight impunity.

(*) The full reports
Freedom of expression:
Summary executions:


The Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression also presented two country mission reports:
Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory:

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions also presented three country mission reports:
The Democratic Republic of the Congo:
The United States of America:

For more information and media requests please contact:
Momoko Nomura (+41 22 917 9304 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]
Irina Tabirta (+41 22 917 9125 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

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