UN plan on journalist security could bring improvement

Representatives from U.N. agencies, member states, and nongovernmental organizations convened on Tuesday at the United Nations Inter-Agency Meeting on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity to plan how to address journalist security. Participants of the meeting, which was convened by UNESCO at its Paris headquarters, also discussed how the United Nations could promote greater interaction among its organizations to further improve press freedom around the world.

CPJ made a formal presentation at the conference and also reviewed and commented on the preliminary plan of action that resulted from the meeting. Experts from the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the African Union analyzed and made recommendations for the improvement by the international community on the issue of press freedom. Using this dialogue, U.N. agency representatives drafted a plan on Wednesday, which CPJ has not reviewed yet.

Kiyo Akasaka, the under-secretary-general for communications and public information, read a statement by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “I urge the entities of the U.N. system to join forces, explore what you can do individually and collectively, and come up with a common approach that will help protect journalists and fight impunity for their killers.”

CPJ applauds this unprecedented show of concern for press freedom issues on the part of the international community and UNESCO’s achievement in bringing about this meeting. But doubts linger as to whether this initiative will translate into concrete action.

The question that dominated the meeting’s first day was whether a new international mechanism should be created to provide protection for the alarming numbers of journalists who face threats around the world. But many speakers noted the existing array of international instruments that represent a legal framework and commitments by states to promote accountability and uphold the rights of journalists to do their job without fear of reprisal. That these mechanisms–U.N. Security Council Resolution 1738, which calls for the protection of journalists in conflict zones; and the 2008 UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication’s Decision on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity–already exist indicates that the solution does not lie in the creation of a new convention but in the compliance and utilization of existing ones.

In the end, measures, principles, and mechanisms can only be as good as their implementation, and each member state that claims to uphold them must treat them seriously. As one speaker pointed out, “Text does not make results.”

Some member states reacted defensively to Tuesday’s recommendations–a possible indication of the political hurdles to come. Delegates from Mexico, where violence against journalists has undeniably spiraled in recent years and complete impunity reigns, and representatives from El Salvador, Cuba, Rwanda, and Cameroon expressed vehement displeasure that specific countries had been named in the course of the presentation.

CPJ is looking forward to reviewing the final plan that will emerge from the meeting, and plans to monitor its progress and adoption. Our demands remain high, but, given the challenges of holding member states accountable to international human rights norms, our expectations are low.

UPDATED: We updated the text in the second paragraph to correct that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be the United Nations Human Rights Council.