The United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity failed to be endorsed by UNESCO’s International Program for the Development of Communication Council (IPDC) last month due to a block by Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Brazil, and Cuba.
The UN Plan, created during the Inter-Agency Meeting on The Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in late 2011, acknowledged that journalists globally are routinely threatened and that these attacks or ignored or are met with impunity. Ultimately, it argued that this handicapped journalism’s vital role in developing countries of exposing corruption and crime in government. While advocates, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), had hopes that the UN Plan would enable greater security for whistleblowers and journalists in developing countries, the UN Plan has been delayed.
“It is the first time that we have seen an effort on this scale to mobilize UN agencies into a coordinated response,” Elisabeth Witchel, CPJ’s Consultant on Impunity told MediaGlobal prior to the meeting. “It also means that the UN will come to terms with the significance of press freedom for its work in many different areas. With strong implementation and follow up, we expect the Plan will result in measures to strengthen the safety of journalists and provide them with access to help when threatened.”
The UN Plan is influenced by Resolution 1738 that was adopted unanimously by the 5613th Security Council. The resolution urgently called for the protection of journalists in conflict zones and the end of impunity.
“Conflict will always be dangerous by definition not only for journalists but for civilians as well,” Kaiser tells MediaGlobal.
According to CPJ, the top 20 deadliest nations for journalists are all developing countries, five of them least developed countries. Worldwide, 909 journalists have been killed since 1992 and 88 percent of these murder cases were met without justice.
“When journalists are killed, others are intimidated. Where there is less reliable information put into circulation, the result is a fertile ground for rumors and for human rights abuses to occur under the cover of darkness,” Guy Berger, UNESCO’s Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, tells MediaGlobal.
Unable to evacuate from a conflict zone, local journalists ultimately take the blunt of any retaliation against the media. They consist of 87 percent of total murders since 1992. Organizations such as CJP have attempted to assist these journalists through advising on safety as well as highlighting injustices against journalists to create international scrutiny for the targeted government.
“Recognizing a journalist with our International Press Freedom Award can bring a level of scrutiny to their situation which will serve as a cloak of public solidarity to protect the journalist,” Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, Advocacy and Communications Director of CPJ, tells MediaGlobal. “CPJ has also enlisted international bodies to intervene when journalists are at risk. For example, at our urging the UN mission in the Ivory Coast evacuated to a safer ground 12 local journalists under siege in Abidjan.”
While publicizing a threat may sometimes deter it, it only stops that single attack. Kaiser notes that impunity will only beget further violence from the perpetrator. Consequently, enforcing measures towards ensuring justice is the keystone to ending the murder of journalists.
Through a combination of actions, including the establishment of an inter-agency mechanism to handle journalist safety and raising awareness through public relation campaigns, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity was supposed to fulfill the goal of Resolution 1738. Instead, the document is on hold.
“We are appalled that this historic opportunity for the international community to take concrete action has been thwarted.” Kaiser said in a public statement.
While the UN Plan has been delayed, is it not dead. According to a UNESCO, it will now be brought to the attention of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination where it may be considered for endorsement in the future.