- The Permanent Mission
- Greece in the U.N.
Statement by H.E. Ambassador A. Mitsialis at the roundtable discussion on the protection of journalists
Madame le Sous-Secrétaire Générale
Mesdames et Messieurs bonsoir.
Tout d’abord permettez-moi de vous remercier tous de votre présence à cette table ronde. Votre participation aujourd’hui, à l’occasion de la Journée Internationale pour la Liberté de la Presse, est un clair témoignage de l’intérêt que la communauté internationale-Etats ou acteurs non étatiques- porte aux efforts pour faire face au défi de la protection des journalistes en zones de conflit. Dans sa Résolution 1738, adoptée en décembre 2006, le Conseil de Sécurité a condamne sans équivoque les attaques délibérément perpétrées contre les journalistes et les professionnels de media et a demandé à toutes les parties de mettre fin à ces pratiques. Malheureusement, cet appel n’a pas été entendu par tous.
Since 2006, more than four hundred journalists and media workers lost their lives worldwide, more have been threatened, wounded, imprisoned, tortured or taken captive. Some of them have perished in a battlefield or in a military context and some have died whilst on a dangerous assignment, but every one of them left their last breath as they were trying to fulfill their assignment, to do their job.
And their job is to inform us all and to make the world aware, with words and pictures of what is happening on the ground. They are trying, under impossible conditions, to do what the journalists who are here with us today will demonstrate, to describe reality at any given moment and place. They are the messengers of facts and truth. But most times truth is unsettling and disconcerting. In the “1984” novel by George Orwell, a Ministry of Truth was established and was responsible for news and education. Words as ‘free’, ‘justice’ and ‘democracy’ had ceased to exist and concepts such as ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ had become part of the “crimethink” concept. In this rather prophetic fiction, reality was being shaped by autocratic party officials and history was a palimpsest; scrapped clean and reinscribed as often as was desired, to satisfy a slogan of the Party, “Ignorance is Strength”.
We are fortunate to have established that ‘Knowledge is Strength’ and, therefore, free and unobstructed flow of information is indispensable in order to achieve this aim. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Moreover, international humanitarian law, and more specifically the Third Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I, protect both civilian and embedded journalists. It is also established that intentional attacks against civilians constitute a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
Despite these clear rules, enshrined in international humanitarian and human rights law, deliberate attempts to target media professionals in zones of conflict continue to increase. According to the Geneva based NGO Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), the number of journalists killed in the first three months of 2012 rose by 50 percent, compared to the same period last year.
Among the plethora of names that can be mentioned here today, allow me to make reference to a Pulitzer Prize nominated Greek-American war photographer, Chris Hondros, who lost his life, along with photojournalist Tim Hetherington, almost a year ago, on April 20, 2011, while covering, the Libyan Civil War from Misrata. Some of his photos were earlier projected and reminded us how fundamental the role of every media professional is, in helping ourselves and the wider public better understand wars and conflicts. Also, special tribute needs to be paid to the local supporting staff, a group of people who pay a big price we often tend to forget, and without which most of the reporting would be practically impossible.
Therefore, the question is compelling: what can the international community do to create a safe and free work environment for journalists and press professionals?
Today’s roundtable discussion aims at exploring ways to achieve a vigorous implementation of Resolution 1738 and to address the issue of impunity of perpetrators of violence committed against media professionals in conflict zones, by stressing the obligation of States to launch prompt and thorough investigation and bring those responsible for such crimes to justice. In his last report on the protection of civilians, the Secretary General underlined this obligation and reminded the pressing need to prevent attacks against journalists. Similar calls have been launched by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Frank La Rue.
Besides the obligation of States to comply with the existing legal framework, there is a need for further and more comprehensive international action. The UN Action Plan on the safety of journalists and the question of impunity which was endorsed in April by the Chief Executives Board and the Decision of the 28th Session of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme of the Development of Communication -which asks the UNESCO Director General to prepare a Work Plan on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity- move in this direction.
In ancient Greece, the messengers who carried the news of war from one city to another were inviolable persons of esteem and respect, regardless of the content of the message. It is about time that we revived this tradition.