posted on Tue 26 May 2015 5:30 PM
Protection of Journalists Debate and Resolution

Tomorrow (27 May), the Security Council will hold a high-level debate on the protection of journalists in conflict situations. The meeting will be chaired by Lithuania’s foreign minister Linas Linkevičius, with briefings by Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, Secretary-General of Reporters Without Borders Christophe Deloire, and Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan in early 2002. The draft resolution was put under silence on Friday, but silence was broken several times. Following bilateral discussions and further revisions, the draft resolution was put in blue this afternoon.

The aim of the debate, as stated in a concept note circulated by Lithuania on 1 May (S/2015/307), is to review implementation of resolution 1738 and discuss lessons learned. Resolution 1738, adopted on 23 December 2006, is the only Council decision to specifically address the safety and protection of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel (hereafter referred to only as journalists). It condemns attacks against such personnel in situations of armed conflict, recalling that journalists are protected as civilians under international humanitarian law. The Council has only held one other open debate on the protection of journalists since the adoption of resolution 1738 on 17 July 2013, from which there was no outcome.

The concept note highlights the increasing risks to journalists and media workers resulting from asymmetrical warfare and terrorist threats, citing as an example the recent beheadings of journalists by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. According to the note, 61 journalists were killed in 2014 and 221 were imprisoned, but little progress has been made in reducing these numbers or bringing perpetrators to justice. (In the past 10 years, 370 journalists were killed, but the perpetrators were apprehended and prosecuted in less than five per cent of the cases.) The concept note asserts that the main problem is the failure to implement the existing legal framework, rather than a lack of adequate norms.

Participants in the debate are invited to consider in particular how to strengthen efforts to combat impunity and use existing accountability mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court; best practices in ensuring the safety of journalists, including facilitating freedom of movement; how to engage peacekeeping missions, other UN entities or international presences on the ground in ensuring the protection of journalists; how best to protect journalists reporting in areas controlled by terrorist and radical extremist groups and prevent kidnappings by terrorist groups; as well as the role of regional and subregional groups in raising awareness about their safety.

The draft resolution reflects the themes outlined in the concept note and seeks in particular to strengthen the Council’s focus on the need to combat impunity for attacks and violence against journalists, enhance reporting on violence against journalists and improve international coordination to strengthen the protection of journalists. More specifically, the draft aims to update resolution 1738 with new provisions reflecting recent developments while reiterating key provisions of resolution 1738. Among other things, it condemns the prevailing impunity for attacks against journalists and in this regard urges member states to take appropriate steps to ensure accountability. It also calls for the immediate release of journalists who have been kidnapped or taken as hostages, and for member states to ensure a safe environment for journalists in accordance with international obligations. Furthermore, the draft encourages greater coordination between regional and subregional organisations in areas such as technical assistance and capacity-building to ensure the safety of journalists and the sharing of expertise and good practices that can enhance implementation of relevant Council resolutions.

Although at the outset Russia questioned whether there was a need for a new resolution on the protection of journalists, in line with their general view that there is no need to single out special groups of civilians as deserving protection, it wasn’t difficult to come to agreement on most issues. The most contentious issues during the three rounds of negotiations were on the use of the Internet and social media, and the importance of press freedom. The initial draft proposed by Lithuania contained language affirming that the work of independent media constitutes an essential element of a democratic society, and as such can contribute to the maintenance of international peace. A number of members were not comfortable with including these elements as they saw it as going beyond the scope of protection of journalists. In the version that went into blue, in order to particularly address one permanent member’s concerns, the media are described as “free, independent and impartial” and the media’s contribution to the maintenance of international peace and security was removed and this paragraph was moved from the first to the second operative paragraph.

The other problematic area was in a preambular paragraph on the responsibility of parties to armed conflict to ensure the protection of those engaging in dissemination of information through the Internet or social media, recognising that these individuals are civilians and should be protected as such, and that they have the right to freedom of expression. It appears that Russia was particularly uncomfortable including these provisions and called for their deletion, while others proposed amendments weakening the language. In the draft in blue, a compromise was found with language referring to the need to protect civilians who receive and disseminate information “online as well as offline” and with reference to Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which refers to freedom of expression, the exercise of which carries specific duties and responsibilities). This paragraph is balanced in the draft text by one condemning the use of the media to incite violence, genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

In addition to the Council debate tomorrow, there will be a panel discussion on the protection of journalists open to all UN member states and civil society co-hosted by Lithuania and Latvia, which holds the EU presidency for the current six-month period ending on 1 July. Entitled “Protection of Journalists and Media Freedom – Key to Sustainable Future”, the discussion will highlight the importance of freedom of the press and safety of journalists in ensuring good governance, transparency and accountability in the context of the preparations for the UN Summit in September that will adopt a post-2015 development agenda. Panel participants will include high-level representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, UNESCO, non-governmental organisations as well as media representatives.
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Postscript (27 May): Resolution 2222 was adopted unanimously during the debate.