Conference Calls on Governments to Implement UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and Media Workers

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Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri,  Chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee
Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri,
Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee

An international conference has called on governments to implement forthwith the United Nation latest plan of action and enhance their working with organisations dedicated to the safety of journalists and media workers.
Representatives of international, regional and national organisations of journalists, human rights and freedom of expression groups met at the International Conference in Doha, Qatar on July 24 and 25, 2017 and brainstormed on the theme Confronting threats to freedom of opinion and expression and access to information.

The conference recognized the numerous resolutions adopted in recent years by the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council deploring the impact of attacks against journalists and other media workers on the public’s right to information and freedom of expression. It also expressed concern at the chilling effect that such attacks, especially when perpetrated with impunity, have on the media.

The event was held amid a diplomatic crisis in the Middle East pitting Qatar against a group of states including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which accused Doha of supporting terrorism and imposed a land, air and sea blockade against it.

The four countries also demanded that Qatar shut down the influential broadcaster Al Jazeera and other media outlets including Al Araby, Al-Jadeed, Arabi21, Rassd and Middle East Eye, a demand that participants at Conference strongly rejected.

The Conference also expressly recognized that the work of media professionals often places them at specific risk of intimidation, harassment and violence as enunciated in (UN Security Council Resolution 2222 (2015), UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/2 of 29 September 2016, and UN General Assembly Resolution 70/162 of 17 December 2015 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity).

Participants pointed out that it has been widely recognized that ensuring accountability for all forms of violence against journalists and other media professionals is a key element in preventing future attacks.

The Conference participants supported the developing of a new binding international instrument dedicated to the safety of journalists, including a specific enforcement mechanism, which would improve the international response to attacks against journalists and the culture of impunity.

Participants believe that current legal provisions should be expanded beyond the obligation to protect journalists against attacks on their life, and include forced disappearances and kidnapping (by state or private actors), arbitrary arrest, intimidation, deportation/refusal of entry, confiscation/damage to property and new forms of violence experienced by journalists during the 2011 Arab Spring.

Calling on governments to recognize all recommendations, covenants, declarations and resolutions promulgated or endorsed by international organisations such as the UN and its agencies such as UNESCO, the Conference also urged them to acknowledge and accept their obligations to give journalists protection as civilians in situations of conflict.
They also urged governments to strengthen national mechanisms and laws, including criminal laws and overhaul justice system to end impunity and to provide judicial and legislative assistance to prevent serious violations of international humanitarian laws including the targeting of journalists.
It also calls on news organisations to acknowledge their duty of care for all their journalists, in particular news gatherers, staff or freelance and their responsibility to provide hostile environment safety training and equipment whether at time of conflict or not.

The Conference also called on governments to recognize the right of media organisations to report information freely and without interference from government and to allow citizens to access information on their own government and institutions in the cause of transparency and accountability.

It called on governments to limit their ability to curtail media access and set the limits of reporting and access to information and allow transparent and independent adjudication on decisions relating to publication.

It also called on journalists to respect codes of conduct that demand fairness, accuracy and the need to oppose the scapegoating of minorities and pandering to prejudice and ignorance.