The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay, has stressed the need to ensure the safety of media workers as they play a vital role in democracy. Speaking at a panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland last month,she noted that the safety of journalists is quite vital to the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of everyone, as well as to the right to development.
According to Pillay, journalists and other media workers are increasingly being targeted with violence in recent years with more than a thousand journalists having been killed since 1992 as a direct result of their profession. She added that 2012 and 2013 were among the deadliest years ever, and that at least 15 have been killed since the start of 2014.
Citing the range of other forms of attacks against media workers, she explained that many more journalists have faced violence, harassment, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and sexual violence against women journalists.
The High Commissioner noted that there has been an increased international awareness in recent years of the frequency with which journalists are attacked because of their work, and the need to ensure greater protection.
She said: “From a human rights perspective, it is clear that all individuals are entitled to the full protection of their human rights, whether the State recognizes them as ‘journalists’ or not; whether they are professional reporters or ‘citizen journalists’; whether or not they have a degree in journalism; whether they report online or offline. Most importantly, States must combat impunity. Every act of violence committed against a journalist that goes uninvestigated, and unpunished, is an open invitation for further violence as ensuring accountability for attacks against journalists is a key element in preventing future attacks.”
She contended that “Failure to do so may be interpreted as tolerance of or acquiescence to, violence. The investigation and prosecution of all attacks against journalists through an effective and functioning domestic criminal justice system is imperative, and there must be remedy for the victims.”
The High Commissioner noted that promoting safety of journalists and combating impunity for those who attack them are central elements within the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) support for press freedom, adding that the Paris-based agency is committed to advancing press freedom and safety of journalists, both offline and online, through a variety of actions, including awareness raising, promoting partnerships and coordination of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.
The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was developed in 2012 by UNESCO AND is now being implemented in five pilot countries – Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Tunisia.