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UN side event highlights challenges facing journalists at risk in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain, and the need to enhance their protection

2016-09-21

Geneva, 20 September 2016 - The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) hosted a side event in co-operation with CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Media Support (IMS), the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Sisters Arab Forum (SAF) in Yemen and Alamal Association in Iraq at the 33rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 20 September 2016 entitled “Journalists at risk in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain: Challenges and the need to enhance their protection.”

The event was moderated by Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Co–Director, who stressed the need to protect journalists by making use of all of UN mechanisms available. He introduced the speakers who focused on the challenges and the needs of journalists in the four countries.

Hussain Ghrer, a prominent Syrian human rights defender, former prisoner and journalist, talked about violations which make journalists and citizen journalists in Syria vulnerable. He particularly emphasised that impunity became the rule in Syria, and demanded the separation of International Criminal Court from the UN Security Council, so it could prosecute perpetrators of war crimes against journalists.

Hanaa Edwar, prominent human rights defender and head of the Iraqi Alamal Association, spoke about journalists surviving multiple risks in Iraq, where more than 300 media persons have been killed since 2003, plus a number more who are missing, due to the lack of rule of law and justice, and the absence of a protection system. Journalists have little protection for their dynamic work which contributes to uncovering corruption cases and human rights violations.

Amal Basha, prominent human rights defender and Chairperson of Sisters' Arab Forum in Yemen, said that Yemen is not safe anymore and there is no place to run to. Journalists are targeted by all sides and there is no access to accurate and objective information but rather there is misleading information and false news, in addition to silence. She added by saying that there should be an international investigation into the crimes committed in Yemen. “We need the war to stop and spread the peace making everybody safe,” she said.

Alexandra El-Khazen, Middle East Coordinator of RSF, talked about the worsening environment for journalists in each of these countries, and stressed the increasing repression against journalists and civil society in Bahrain. She said that despite increased international attention to the murders of journalists for instance, governments fail to take action to reduce the high rates of targeted violence and impunity, or even prevent it. She finally urged the need to act more at the international level and highlighted that the issue regarding the safety of journalists is not an absence of applicable law but rather a lack of means of ensuring compliance. This is why she suggested that the creation of the position of Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for the Safety of Journalists would monitor compliance by United Nations member states with their obligations under international law. (See: https://rsf.org/en/urge-un-secretary-general-ban-ki-moon-appoint-protector-journalists)

Ma’aly Hazzaz, responsible for projects targeting the Arab Region at UNESCO’s Freedom of Expression section, stressed that as the number of journalists killed continues to increase, UNESCO acknowledges the need for more commitment and tangible actions from the part of governments, media institutions, universities, the civil society as well as journalists themselves. “As part of this year’s commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists [on 2 November], UNESCO will stress the importance to implement country-based information systems and other institutional mechanisms to tackle the ‘three Ps’ as promoted by UNESCO: Prevent violence against journalists, Protect journalists in danger, and Prosecute the perpetrators,” she added, reiterating that “Impunity towards crimes against journalists is considered one of the main factors fueling the cycle of violent crime against the exercise of freedom of expression and human rights more broadly. UNESCO warns that impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime.” (For more info, see: http://en.unesco.org/day/endimpunity)

At the end of the meeting Khalid Ibrahim mentioned two important recommendations from the GCHR report released in September entitled, “Risking Their Lives: Ongoing Attacks Against Journalists in Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Yemen”, (see: http://www.gc4hr.org/report/view/53) which urges all UN human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council and UN member states to:

 ● Appoint a Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the protection of journalists; and

● Refer cases of journalists killed and attacked in Syria and Iraq, which are not parties to the Rome Statute, to the International Criminal Court.