UN urged to strengthen fight against attacks on journalists

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been urged to strengthen the fight against impunity and to pressure states to investigate fully, promptly and independently all attacks on journalists.

This call was made by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion during an informal Arria meeting on the protection of reporters. The meeting also heard from a senior official from news network Al Jazeera who said his colleague Shireen Abu Akleh was killed earlier this month in the West Bank town of Jenin “by an Israeli bullet and in cold blood while she was doing her job”.  

The Council heard how media independence, freedom and pluralism was backsliding in many countries with press freedom being chilled even when journalists are not being killed; the Council urged to protect journalism as a public good and a pillar of democracy. 

The UN Security Council must unequivocally reaffirm its call to all states and indeed all parties to a conflict to uphold their international human rights and humanitarian law obligations towards genocide. Secondly, the Security Council must strengthen the fight against impunity. It must call on states to investigate fully, promptly and independently all attacks against journalists in line with international standards. Thirdly, both states and the international community must invest in free, independent, pluralistic and diverse media. UN missions must prioritize support to strengthen media freedom and safety of journalists as part of the sustainable development agenda,” says Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan. 

Senior Research Fellow at Africa Asia Dialogue Thembisa Fakude shares his memories following Shireen Abu Akleh’s death: 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 28 journalists have been killed in the line of duty in 2021 and almost two dozen this year already, many while reporting on the war in Ukraine. Council resolution 2222 of May 2015 emphasis the need to combat impunity for attacks, with efforts, through this informal session, to draw attention to the active responsibility of the Security Council to protect journalists by implementing its very own resolutions. As media face growing repression in various theatres around the world as Jon Williams – a member of CPJ’s Board of Directors explained.

Scores more have faced shelling, shooting and detention as they try to shine a light on what is going on in Ukraine. Russian journalists detained and threatened during Moscow’s crackdown on independent Russian media. Many have fled the country for as long as journalists have been seeking the truth, there have been those determined to silence them. Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. But it is not only drug cartels and terrorists who target journalists around the world. Too often, those in power also try to silence reporters by putting them in jail. Last year closed with a record number of journalists imprisoned in China, which imprisoned several journalists for their coverage of the pandemic was the world’s worst jailer. For the second year in a row, emboldened autocrats have a growing intolerance of independent reporting, and nowhere is that truer than in Afghanistan.” 

 While the recent killing of Al Jazeera Correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh also receiving a fair share of the spotlight at the meeting, the network’s America’s Bureau Chief Abderrahim Foukara pointed the finger at Israel for her death.

Al Jazeera’s position is crystal clear- Shireen Abu Akleh as life matters, and so does a transparent and independent investigation of her killing and of the serious violation of her funeral by the Israeli security forces. There are other crystal clear issues for Al Jazeera network. One, Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli bullet and in cold blood while she was doing her job. Two, the network has the evidence and the witnesses to support that position. Three, Al Jazeera is considering all possible legal options to make sure justice is done so that Syrians killing does not end up swept under the carpet of impunity. Four, the responsibility of Shireen’s killing must be investigated going as high as may be required up the chain of command in the Israeli army or any other security apparatus which may have been involved.” 

Calling on the Council to shoulder its responsibility to protect journalists and to use its leverage to end the impunity of bad actors.