Expert Panel Launches Report on Use of Sanctions to Protect Journalists

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Horacio Bernardes Neto, President, International Bar Association
Horacio Bernardes Neto, President, International Bar Association

The Secretariat to the High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, in collaboration with Chatham House have launched the first report of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom titled Report on the Use of Sanctions to Protect Journalists.

The 80-page report examines the current state of media freedom abuses around the world and outlines the importance of sanctions as a tool to enforce human rights compliance. It offers guidelines, not rules.

It asserts that media freedom has been in decline for a decade, through systemic censorship as well as relentless attacks on journalists, ranging from online harassment to arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings. As well, many governments are refusing to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and, in many places, the governments are the perpetrators.

The report recommends that governments, including signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, adopt targeted sanctions regimes to ensure that journalists, media professionals and others engaged in journalistic activities can carry out their work without harassment, intimidation, false imprisonment or violent attack.

Written by Amal Clooney, barrister and Deputy Chair of the High Level Panel, the Report was been released in the face ofthe alarming number of attacks on journalists and media freedom. Statistics from various press freedom groups show that more than 130 journalists and media workers were killed in the last two years, and in 2019, 250 journalists around the world were imprisoned ‘for their work’, including an increasing number for allegedly spreading ‘false news’.

It has been endorsed by the 15High Level Panel members on media freedom, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) (Secretariat to the Panel), the CPJ, Reporters without Borders, PEN America, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye.

The report focuses on three sanctions-related issues in its analysis and recommendations that are most relevant in the context of the media and these include:the appropriate scope of human rights abuses that should trigger the imposition of sanctions (what should be included);the appropriate targets of a sanctions regime (who should be included); andthe appropriate triggering mechanisms for a targeted human rights sanctions regime (how it should be activated).

It discusses the power of targeted penalties on individuals as a tool to enforce governments’ international human-rights obligations, including their responsibilities to respect free speech and to protect journalists. Sanctions include freezing an individuals’ assets and banning their entry into certain countries.

The most publicized and cold-blooded example of what Ms. Clooney characterized, during the launch, as a “global gag on speech” was the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S.-based Saudi journalist and critic of Saudi Arabia’s government who was killed after walking into the country’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018 and which provoked worldwide outrage. She noted however that attacks on media freedom and credibility are not always as sensational.

The report which was launched on February 13, 2020 had Baroness Helena Kennedy QC Director, IBAHRI and Maria Ressa, Co-Founder and CEO, Rappler Online News Network, Philippines giving the opening remarks.

On the panel were Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom; Amal Clooney Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers and UK Special Envoy on Media Freedom; Professor Sarah Cleveland Louis Henkin, Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights, Faculty Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute, Columbia Law School; and The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights and former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst CMG, Distinguished Fellow, International Law Programme, Chatham House, chaired the panel.

The full report is available online to download it please click Report on the Use of Sanctions to Protect Journalists.