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IFEX members attend UN Human Rights Council panel on protection of journalists in armed conflict

Sri Lankan media activists protest the disappearance of an online news editor. IFEX members at the UN Human Rights Council say international law must be respected to protect journalists.
Sri Lankan media activists protest the disappearance of an online news editor. IFEX members at the UN Human Rights Council say international law must be respected to protect journalists.

WAN-IFRA

The 14th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) held a panel discussion on 4 June to draw attention to the dangers faced by journalists in armed conflict and to assess provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law to protect them. IFEX members at the discussion emphasised respect for existing laws to safeguard journalists in conflict situations.

Speaking at the panel, ARTICLE 19 said a culture of impunity linked to attacks on journalists and the denial of journalists' human rights during conflicts led to a chilling effect on freedom of expression, impeding the public's right to know. The organisation urged states to implement existing obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law to protect journalists in conflict situations, and to carry out prompt, independent investigations of attacks.

Omar Faruk Osman, President of the Federation of African Journalists and Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), said African journalists were the most unprotected defenders of human rights, under attack by repressive governments as well as armed gangs and militias. He argued that existing instruments and laws to protect journalists were not being respected and enforced. In Somalia, he explained, armed forces and individuals are aware of laws protecting journalists' rights but they do not respect them; journalists are seen as dangerous opponents.

Osman called on the UNHRC to send a message that it would not stand idle while journalists were subjected to violent deaths. He said there is an urgent need for international actions to have a practical component to protecting journalists on the ground.

George Gordon-Lennox of RSF said journalists face more risks now compared to 20 years ago because the nature of war has changed. "In Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, journalists are above all regarded as spies to be eliminated or as bargaining chips. Respect for journalists as neutral and independent observers no longer exists," he said. On the issue of kidnapping and hostage taking of journalists, he said there is "a need for structures and mechanisms that can be quickly activated."

At a side panel during the event, Freedom House launched its annual report revealing the world's most brutal human rights abusers, "Worst of the Worst 2010: The World's Most Repressive Societies." The report aims to focus the attention of the UNHRC on states and territories that deserve investigation and condemnation for widespread violations.

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