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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
30 January 2020
Geneva, 29-30 January 2020
I am pleased to join this meeting of the Executive Group of the Media Freedom Coalition, which focuses on a matter of concern to us all.
A free media is essential to peaceful and inclusive societies.
It is crucial for accountable institutions.
Sound, independent information is the foundation of public participation in democratic governance.
In short, there can be no democracy without a free press.
But, sadly, attacks on journalists, and on media freedoms, are becoming increasingly widespread – online and off-line.
We see journalists and media workers becoming more and more vulnerable to surveillance and digital attacks by both State and non-State actors.
We see inflammatory rhetoric and misinformation on the internet leading to public distrust even in journalism itself.
And we see that, in addition to the new challenges of the digital world, many journalists continue to be the target of physical threats and attacks. Some of them are fatal.
The death toll of journalists around the world is alarmingly and unacceptably high.
UNESCO recently reported that between January 2017 and June 2019, at least 207 journalists were killed, over half of them in countries not experiencing armed conflict.
Many died while reporting on human rights abuses, organized crime, illicit financial flows, corruption, or State complicity.
Many had received threats.
This situation is made even worse by the fact that most of these attacks are not investigated nor prosecuted.
According to UNESCO, in almost nine out of ten cases, the killing of journalists goes unpunished.
New and urgent efforts must be made to tackle impunity and hold perpetrators accountable – may they be States or individuals. Accountability represents justice – but it is also a deterrent that acts to prevent further crimes.
Human rights monitoring is a fundamental tool.
I count on all Coalition members to continue to push for accountability.
I call on you:
To conduct prompt, thorough and independent investigations into all threats and attacks against journalists and media workers within your jurisdiction;
To voice your concern;
And to urge all States and other actors to protect journalists and to implement policies and practices to address future threats.
The number of journalists arrested, detained or imprisoned is also a cause for serious concern.
In some cases, we see governments using -- and misusing – legislation, including on national security, counter-terrorism and defamation, to erode protections for fundamental freedoms. Again, this is true both in the digital space and the real world.
Attacks against journalists and media workers are assaults on the rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
They cannot be tolerated.
It is our shared responsibility to reverse these negative trends. I welcome your pledge to speak out and take action whenever and wherever media freedom is at risk.
And I reiterate the Secretary-General’s commitment to the safety of journalists and media freedom, through the UN Plan of Action and an inter-agency network that is co-chaired by my Office and UNESCO.
Indeed, in recent years, many UN bodies and mechanisms have addressed the issue.
Since 2006, the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council have all expressed serious concerns regarding media freedom and the safety of journalists in more than ten thematic resolutions, as well as country specific resolutions on Syria, Iran, Burundi, DPRK, South Sudan, Myanmar to name a few.
The Security Council has examined the situation of journalists in armed conflicts. It has expressed deep concerns about the frequency of acts of violence against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in armed conflict in many parts of the world. It has condemned deliberate attacks in violation of international humanitarian law.
The UN General Assembly has adopted thematic resolutions focusing on the safety of journalists in broader contexts, also acknowledging the specific risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their work. We know that women reporters often suffer a disproportionate burden of physical assault and verbal abuse.
The Human Rights Council has also addressed threats to media freedom. Its resolutions condemn unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists, including sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence.
In fact, the state of media freedom is regularly examined in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, and many recommendations have been addressed to States in all regions.
I call on the Coalition to address the issue in their recommendations in a systematic and coordinated way.
And both the Secretary-General and I have submitted several reports to the General Assembly and to the Human Rights Council on the matter of media freedom.
The most recent Secretary-General report provides an overview of the action taken at the international, regional and national levels and shows how actors have scaled up the coordination of activities, including advocacy, monitoring and reporting.
The report strongly encourages States to continue developing national action plans on the safety of journalists – and to assist other States in doing so -- taking into account the gender dimensions.
It also calls for the safety of journalists to be integrated into national sustainable development strategies under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
As you know, one of the indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 16 requires States to report on the number of cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists and associated media personnel in the previous 12 months.
We need strong, multi-sector collaboration and partnerships to defend media freedom.
With that in mind, my Office closely cooperates with other UN agencies, civil society, international and regional organisations and States – and I welcome the work of this Coalition.
I thank the countries that have taken the Global Pledge on Media Freedom.
Your commitments to speak out and take action for media freedom in all societies; to shed a light on violations and abuses; to work towards accountability; to support countries in improving respect for media freedom and to call out those where media freedom is at risk.
I welcome your efforts and I encourage you to be even more ambitious.
I encourage you to increasingly integrate media freedom and the safety of journalists into UN thematic and country-specific resolutions beyond the ones focused on the issue in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
And I encourage you to consider all available measures to address violations and abuses of international human rights, including by supporting the work of the Council’s Special Procedures, in situations where individual journalists or media freedom is at risk.
I also call on the Coalition to follow-up on the annual Joint Declaration made by Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression from the United Nations and regional organizations -- namely the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Organization of American States, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The Declaration spells out crucial recommendations for safeguarding free expression that stem from 20 years of joint work by the rapporteurs.
When we defend media freedom, we defend justice, governance and human rights.
We defend the people who uphold the rights to information, to freedom of expression and opinion, and to participation in decision-making.
To protect our own freedoms, we need to ensure that media professionals can work freely and safely.
And for that, it is clear that we need coordinated efforts.
I thank the Media Freedom Coalition for its commitment and partnership.
My Office will continue to do everything we can to ensure that all media workers are free to do their invaluable work without fear of attack.
I know you share our resolve and I look forward to deepening our work with you.