U.N. agency creates plan for safety of journalists

The United Nations says an alarming number of journalists around the world are killed every year and very few of the perpetrators are ever brought to justice. The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has drafted a plan for the safety of journalists.

American war correspondent, Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were killed in Syria on Feb. 22. They are among 65 journalists killed in the first five months of 2012. According to the Swiss news agency ATS this is 50 percent more than last year. At least 15 of the victims were in Syria, seven in Mexico and six in Somalia.

The latest report from Reporters Without Borders says 163 journalists are imprisoned in 2012.

“If we look at the record so far this year, it seems to be that both on the level of imprisonment of journalists and in terms of the lives lost of journalists that we are indeed facing a serious problem,” said Christof Heyns, U.N. special investigator on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

This year, Heyns focused his annual report on the protection of the right to life of journalists.

“It is also clear from looking at the statistics that one may have the picture of the most common threat to journalists is the foreign journalist who is killed in armed conflict. But two-thirds of the deaths are outside of armed conflict and a typical situation is the local journalist who is killed, who works for a radio station, who works for a newspaper, and increasingly also the Internet and others as well,” he said.

Frank La Rue, U.N. special investigator on freedom of expression, says there has to be a commitment to investigate and prosecute those who attack, kill, and imprison journalists. “I do believe there should be in a specific level of crimes defined as persecution or acts of violence against journalists. This for me is very important because this would guarantee in a better way the protection of journalists,” La Rue said. “There are journalists who are in grave danger in non-conflict situations, but in situations of extreme violence like organized crime or authoritarian regimes.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports almost half of the 179 journalists imprisoned in 2011 were bloggers whose work appears online.

Heyns notes international laws regarding protection for journalists already exist. Governments just have to implement them. “I think one of the dangers of a new legally binding instrument is . . . that one could have all kinds of issues such as registration and new limitations being discussed as well . . . and if one spends too much time on negotiating a new binding instrument, one may take the eye off the implementation,” he said.

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