UN General Assembly Asks Member States to Develop and Implement Effective Measures to Protect Journalists

Abdulla Shahid
United Nations General Assembly President

With a unanimous voice, the United Nations General Assembly has again called on UN Member States to develop and implement effective and transparent legal frameworks and measures for the protection of journalists and media workers and to combat impunity for crimes against journalists.

In its latest resolution on the subject, adopted by consensus at its 76th Session, the General Assembly outlined various measures that States should take to ensure the safety of journalists and to combat impunity for attacks against journalists, including the creation and strengthening of special investigative units or independent commissions, the appointment of a specialized prosecutor and the adoption of specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution;

The resolution was submitted for consideration by Greece, along with Argentina, Austria, Costa Rica, France, and Tunisia and was co-sponsored by 112 countries.

In the resolution, the General Assembly, which is the main policy-making organ of the UN, stressed the importance of the full respect for the right to seek, receive and impart information, for the freedom of journalists to have access to information and the right of the general public to receive media output, adding that “the safety of journalists and media workers is indispensable to ensuring these rights.”

It strongly condemned the prevailing impunity for attacks and violence against journalists and expressed concern that the vast majority of such crimes go unpunished, which in turn contributes to their recurrence.

The General Assembly therefore called upon States to develop and implement effective and transparent legal frameworks and measures for the protection of journalists and media workers and for combating impunity, taking a gender-responsive approach, including, where appropriate, through the creation and strengthening of special investigative units or independent commissions, the appointment of a specialized prosecutor and the adoption of specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution.

It urged States to do their “utmost to prevent violence, threats and attacks targeting journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy, thorough, independent and effective investigations into all alleged violence, threats and attacks against journalists and media workers, including sexual and gender-based violence against women journalists and media workers in armed conflict and non-conflict situations, falling within their jurisdiction, to bring perpetrators, including those who command, conspire to commit, aid and abet or cover up such crimes, to justice, and to ensure that victims and their families have access to appropriate remedies.”

The General Assembly also admonished political leaders, public officials and authorities to refrain from denigrating, intimidating or threatening the media, including individual journalists and media workers, or from using misogynist or any discriminatory language towards women journalists, which thereby undermines trust in the credibility of journalists as well as respect for the importance of independent journalism.

It called on States to create and maintain, both in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference, taking a gender-responsive approach, including through legislative measures and supporting the judiciary in conducting training, capacity-building and awareness-raising.

The General Assembly asked States to support training, capacity-building and awareness-raising among law enforcement officers and military personnel, as well as among journalists and civil society, regarding international human rights and international humanitarian law obligations and commitments relating to the safety of journalists, adding that these should include a strong focus on combating, both online and offline, sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence against women journalists, as well as the particularities of online threats and harassment of women journalists.

Other activities outlined include the regular monitoring and reporting of attacks against journalists; collecting and analysing concrete quantitative and qualitative data on online and offline attacks or violence against journalists, that are disaggregated by, among other factors, sex; publicly and systematically condemning online and offline attacks, harassment and violence against journalists and media workers; and dedicating the resources necessary to investigate and prosecute such attacks and to develop and implement gender-responsive strategies for combating impunity for attacks and violence against journalists.

The General Assembly called on States to put in place safe gender-responsive preventive measures and investigative procedures, in order to protect journalists, especially women journalists and encourage journalists to report online and offline attacks against them, and providing victims and survivors with adequate support, including psychosocial support.

It unequivocally condemned measures taken by States in violation of international human rights law that aim to or that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or the dissemination of information online and offline, as well as those that aim to undermine the work of journalists in informing the public, including through practices such as Internet shutdowns.

The General Assembly condemned measures to unduly restrict, block or take down media websites, such as denial of service attacks, and called upon all States to cease and refrain from these measures, which “cause irreparable harm to efforts at building inclusive and peaceful knowledge societies and democracies.”

It implored States to ensure that measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security or public order are in compliance with their obligations under international law and that such measures do not arbitrarily or unduly hinder the work and safety of journalists, including through arbitrary arrest or detention or any such threat.

The General Assembly called upon States to ensure that defamation and libel laws are not misused, particularly through excessive criminal sanctions, to illegitimately or arbitrarily censor journalists and interfere with their mission of informing the public.

It said that where necessary, States should revise and repeal such laws, in compliance with their obligations under international human rights law.

The General Assembly reaffirmed that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, particularly the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and emphasized that “in the digital age, encryption and anonymity tools have become vital for many journalists to freely exercise their work and their enjoyment of human rights”, especially their rights to freedom of expression and to privacy.

It therefore called on upon States not to interfere with journalists’ use of such technologies and to ensure that any restrictions on them comply with States’ obligations under international human rights law as they are also vital to securing journalists’ communications and protecting the confidentiality of their sources.