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Protection of journalists in armed conflicts-Open debate in the Security Council-Statement of the PR of Greece to the UN, Ambassador M. Spinellis

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Protection of journalists in armed conflicts-Open debate in the Security Council-Statement of the PR of Greece to the UN, Ambassador M. Spinellis Madame President,

I would like to thank you for taking the initiative to organize this timely and important debate on the protection of journalists in armed conflict. I also welcome the remarks made by the Deputy Secretary General Mr. Jan Eliasson on the issue. My Delegation aligns itself with the statement (delivered earlier/to be delivered later) by the European Union.

Depriving or endangering the life of journalists is an extreme form of censorship, not only because it silences one voice, but because it aims –and usually succeeds- at intimidating others. And as the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns wrote, “the free flow of ideas and information is replaced by the silent warning of the grave”. The fact is that the issue of journalists and others covering armed conflicts or reporting under dangerous conditions remains highly problematic. According to reports and live testimonies by journalists and the NGO representatives who are here with us today, the number of journalists or press operatives killed, kidnapped, wounded or threatened while carrying out their professional duties remains alarmingly high. According to the NGO Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), 56 journalists were killed in armed conflicts during the first semester of 2013. Last year alone, an odd record of 141 journalists were killed, a number that indicates by itself the gravity of the problem. In addition to this, the number of abductions of journalists is increasing every year.

Most of these instances are not accidental; the root cause of targeting journalists remains, in most cases, the fact that they report on unsettling truths and expose crimes, the perpetrators of which, whether political autocrats, criminal organizations or terrorist groups, they have something to loose when a journalist brings their illegal actions into the forefront.

States indeed have the necessary legal instruments to protect journalists in armed conflicts. Both Security Council Resolution 1738 and International Humanitarian Law and more specifically, the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I, contain unequivocal provisions on the necessity to protect media professionals when reporting in dangerous situations. More recently, a third tool has been added to our hands in order to protect journalist i.e. the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which promotes the inclusion of freedom of expression and the media development goals, in particular the safety of journalists and the fight against impunity, within the wider UN development agenda. The Plan of Action is a comprehensive and practical approach to the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, aiming at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, both in conflict and non-conflict situations. The establishment of an inter-agency coordinated mechanism in order to assist countries to develop legislation and mechanisms that will guarantee the freedom of expression and information is an important feature of this plan. Strong support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as to the work of UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, is indispensable for the full implementation of the principles and the objectives of the Plan of Action. Moreover, enhancing the UN reporting mechanism is a necessary condition for the efficient protection of journalists.

At the same time, combating impunity will undoubtedly decrease the unusually high occurrences of deaths, abductions and detentions. Insufficient investigation, lack of convictions or simply impunity perpetuate the cycle of violence against journalists. The problem of impunity is not restricted to the failure to investigate the murders of journalists, but has also impacts freedom of expression. The curtailment of journalists’ expression deprives society as a whole of their contribution and results in a greater impact against press freedom, since a climate of fear results to self-censorship. States must ensure that the perpetrators of such crimes are brought to justice and are punished for their actions.

Apart from States, the role of civil society in the protection of journalists is crucial. Several NGOs have dedicated their work in combating the attacks against journalists and preventing the violence against them. The death of Tim Hetherington, a dedicated US photographer, who was killed while covering the conflict in Libya in 2011, has led to the creation of RISC – Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, an NGO dedicated to promoting the safety of freelance journalists in combat zones. In the same vein, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, is dealing with the aftermath of conflict coverage by offering professional treatment to survivors and by creating awareness about the impact of trauma coverage on news professionals.

Greece attaches great attention to the issue of protection of journalists and the fight against impunity. On that account, and in cooperation with UNESCO and Costa Rica, we organized, for a second consecutive year a side event, on the protection of journalists, on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day in May. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right expressed on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which should be universally ensured. Journalists and media professionals are the main actors in the process of delivery of news and information.

Thank you.

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