The Protection of Journalists and Freedom of Expression in the Face of Conflict

International Peace Institute, New York, 12. februar 2015

- We need to do more to protect fundamental human rights and ensure safety for journalists. And that is the starting point for the discussion we are having here today, sa statssekretær Bård Glad Pedersen i sitt innlegg på seminaret på International Peace Institute.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  • Thank you all for attending today.
  • Let me also thank the International Peace Institute for co-hosting this event,
  • And of course the panellists for contributing. 

Last December, in Peshawar in Pakistan, 148 innocent people were killed in a school attack.

  • 132 of them were children.
  • All killed deliberately and in cold blood by brutal terrorists.  

In Syria,

  • thousands of people have vanished without a trace,
  • forcibly "disappeared",
  • since the country's uprising began in March 2011.

One of them is a 53-year-old writer and human rights activist, Samira al-Khalil, who has been missing since December 2013. 

In Eastern Ukraine, the fighting continues.

  • More than one million are displaced from their homes.   

How do I know this?

I know this from journalists,

  • from press photographers, from all the people of the media.
  • Our eyes and ears in every corner of the world – to create understanding of what is happening around us.

Journalists go where most of us are unable or unwilling to go.

  • They place themselves in dangerous situations in order to disclose wrongdoing,
  • shed light on atrocities
  • and expose violations of human rights. 

It is precisely because of this important watchdog role that journalists and media workers are targeted.

  • They are threatened and imprisoned,
  • even killed for doing their job. 

We were all shocked by the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last month.

  • Fear is what terrorists want us to feel.
  • Silence is what they hope to achieve.
  • We must not let extremists succeed in their aims. 

We used to believe that the primary threat to journalists was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Not anymore.
  • Now, journalists are targeted because of − not despite of − their profession. 

Many of these attacks do not reach the headlines.

  • Like when two unidentified gunmen in August last year stormed the offices of the independent news agency Online International News Network in Quetta, in Pakistan.
  • They shot dead Irshad Mastoi, the agency's bureau chief, and reporter-in-training Ghulam Rasool. 

They are attacked for what they have written.

  • Silenced for what they have witnessed.
  • Or kidnapped for the leverage and global attention their capture may provide. 

The perpetrators,

  • whether government officials, security forces, private entities, criminal organizations or terrorist groups,
  • do not want their illegal actions brought into the limelight. 

Some of the most dangerous countries for reporters are those that are or have been in situations of armed conflict.

  • Syria has been leading the charts of deadliest countries for journalists the last years. 

An unusually high proportion of journalists killed in relation to their work in 2014 were international journalists. 

However, the vast majority of attacks against journalists occur outside situations of armed conflict.

  • 9 out of every 10 journalists killed are local reporters covering local issues. 

They are silenced because they criticise authorities and report on sensitive issues like corruption, organized crime, religion or drug trafficking. 

Last month the Mexican journalist Moisés Sánchez Cerezo was threatened and kidnapped from his home by armed men and later found dead. 

When the security environment heats up,

  • these journalists cannot go home.
  • They are at home. 

We do see increased international awareness of the need to ensure greater protection.

  • The Security Council, the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council,
  • have all condemned attacks against journalists and called upon States to act on their legal obligations.  

In 2012, Unesco developed the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

  • It is now being implemented in five pilot countries: Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Tunisia.

Regional organizations, including OSCE, the Council of Europe and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have also taken initiatives. 

The international legal framework is in place.

  • What we need is political will and implementation at the national level. 

The single most important cause of danger to journalists is impunity.

  • Every act of violence that goes uninvestigated and unpunished is an open invitation for further violence.
  • Ensuring accountability for attacks against journalists should therefore be our first step. 

States do have an obligation under international law to investigate and prosecute systemic attacks against journalists. 

And, in situations of armed conflict, journalists are considered civilians and thus protected by international humanitarian law.  

We therefore have to promote and enhance the respect for international law and standards in this area.

  • The gap between the commitments states have made and the respect shown for human rights in practice is far too big.   

States must put in place a domestic legal framework that protects freedom of expression and journalists.

  • They must investigate threats and attacks against journalists effectively and impartially.
  • They must train the police and ensure that law-enforcement authorities are independent. 

With freedom of expression and independent media, being more important in our foreign and development policy, we will intensify our efforts through more targeted action on all levels. 

In bilateral consultations and meetings, we raise freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. 

And we use the Universal Periodic Review in the Human Rights Council to raise awareness and to engage with other States on these issues. 

An important part of what we can do is to support and facilitate the work of media organisations and civil society.  

  • They play an important role in documenting and raising awareness about threats against journalists.
  • They monitor dangerous environments, issue reports and offer practical assistance when journalists are threatened. 

In addition, they provide valuable training to journalists, including in situations of kidnapping and digital security.

  • The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Norwegian Union of Journalists have trained 1500 journalists in some of the most dangerous countries for journalists.
  • International Media Support support media in conflict and work systematically to implement the UN Plan of Action in the field. 

Freedom of expression and the safety of journalists are under pressure many places around the world.

  • We need to do more to protect fundamental human rights and ensure safety for journalists.
  • And that is the starting point for the discussion we are having here today. 

Thank you for your attention.