At the UN, let’s talk about journalist murders in plain language

The U.N. Human Rights Council was established in 2006 as a replacement for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which folded in the face of criticism that it gave a platform to many states with poor human rights records. Only time will tell if the U.N. Human Rights Council will be any better. Nevertheless, this week, thanks in no small party to nations led by Austria, the U.N. body meeting for the 26th human rights sessions in Geneva, will hear on Wednesday a high-level panel on journalist safety and related issues.

The panel’s presence this year in Geneva has also been driven by the U.N. bodies UNESCO and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and it builds on the UNESCO-developed U.N. Action Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay will open the journalist safety panel. Last month, CPJ Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch, a former UNESCO official herself, pointed out that while the U.N. Action Plan deserves credit for bringing more attention to journalists who have been imprisoned, attacked, or killed, the U.N. Action Plan has nonetheless made “very little progress” in limiting the number of journalists imprisoned or killed or in bringing the killers to justice.

On Wednesday, I am going to address the U.N. member states regarding some of the reasons why. My statement may be more direct that many member states along with U.N. diplomats might normally hear; I am critical of U.N. bodies for intentionally “burying the lead,” so as not perhaps to offend U.N. member states, and talking about many issues at once instead of zeroing in on the one issue that has long been and remains the greatest threat to both press freedom and at-risk journalists worldwide: unsolved journalist murders. CPJ research shows that three out of every five journalists killed around the world since 1992 have been outright murdered, and that the perpetrators get away with the crime in nearly 9 out of 10 journalist murders.

I’ve also got some criticism for those member states–half of the total in fact–which failed to respond to a request from the UNESCO director-general to provide voluntary information on the status of judicial cases, including journalist murder investigations. Such information is essential to finally begin a real discussion. Finally, I will encourage the states to go one step further and take action to finally start bringing the murderers of journalists to justice.

As I will acknowledge to the member states, that would not be easy. But nothing would do more to advance the goals that we have identified.

You can read my statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva here.