SECRETARIAT OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
SECRETARIAT DU COMITE DES MINISTRES
Contact: Mireille Paulus
Tel: 03 88 41 22 55
Document distributed at the request of:
1187th – 11-12 December 2013
1.6 - Thematic debate: “Safety of journalists – Further steps for the better implementation of human rights standards”
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Document distribué à la demande du :
1187e – 11-12 décembre 2013
Référence du point :
1.6 - Débat thématique : « Sécurité des journalistes – Mesures à prendre pour améliorer la mise en œuvre des normes en matière de droits de l’homme »
Ms Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni – Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
This thematic debate takes place in the spirit of the two previous important debates on media freedom and on safety of journalists held in 2011 and 2012.
It also takes place just after the adoption of a Resolution on Safety of Journalists at the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and Information Society, which was held in Belgrade on 7 and 8 November.
Unfortunately, journalists continue to be intimidated, deprived of their liberty and even killed because of their investigative work, opinion or reporting in some parts of Europe. Often, perpetrators of such crimes are not brought to justice, which casts doubt on the effectiveness of the law enforcement bodies and the judiciary. The absence of effective investigation and the resulting impunity casts a dark shadow that any State has to vigorously seek to dissipate.
The Council of Europe, together with the United Nations, the European Union and the OSCE, has a responsibility to act and to ensure that journalists can work safely.
This is of paramount importance for freedom of expression and the media, a fundamental element of genuine democracy.
The Council of Europe has devoted significant effort to creating and supporting an enabling environment for free media as one of the building blocks of democracy. Linked to this has been a concern with media pluralism as the best way to ensure freedom of expression.
Several texts, based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, have been adopted to protect journalists’ rights and safety. A new Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors has been endorsed by the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI).
And yet much remains to be done to implement these standards.
Fundamental issues are at stake, such as the misuse of legislation on defamation, or anti-terror legislation to harass and silence journalists, or the protection of the confidentiality of sources.
What strikes me in particular is the recurrent problem of impunity and our inability, still today, to break this vicious circle.
Let me therefore raise three questions:
- How can we improve our capacity for a rapid response to threats or violence against journalists through early warning mechanisms?
- How can we ensure that the existing standards on the safety of journalists are better implemented? How can we put an end to impunity? Let us recall that your Committee, following an initiative by the Parliamentary Assembly, in 2011 adopted Guidelines on Eradicating Impunity for serious Human Rights violation. This is a comprehensive text which sets out clear principles to fight impunity.
- How can we give support to Governments in ensuring an enabling environment for journalism and free media?
The Secretary General’s report contains a number of proposals which you will have the opportunity to discuss during the debate. You will also listen to the valuable contributions of the Ambassador of Serbia, the Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur on Protection of media freedom, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Deputy Registrar of the Court and the Media Freedom Representative of the Association of European Journalists.
I look forward to an interesting debate which, I hope, will lead to action.
H.E. Ambassador Mr. Zoran Popovic - Permanent Representative of Serbia
Threats to the freedom of expression and the safety of journalists must be dealt with as a matter of priority by all Council of Europe member States, and they should take all appropriate steps for ensuring the protection of journalists, in terms of both, preventive measures and effective investigations.
The position I have just readout is not an original position of my country. Actually it is a quotation of one part of the Resolution No 3 “Safety of Journalist” that has been recently adopted in Belgrade, at the Council of Europe’s Ministerial Conference on the Media. One month ago all the 47 officially recognised the need of a special resolution that would express the concern of the Council of Europe for this serious question hidden behind the notions of human rights and democracy.
In Belgrade, ministers strongly condemned physical attacks, intimidation and misuse of power of the State, including illegal monitoring of communications and other forms of harassment of journalists and other media actors. They noted that the failure by authorities to investigate effectively and prosecute the perpetrators fuels a climate of impunity that favours further attacks.
Needless to point out, the Republic of Serbia pays great attention to freedom of media. The initiative of Serbia to be the host and co-organise the first conference of the Council of Europe on this subject speaks for itself. There are three drafts of laws within the media subject with the ongoing public consideration and to be adopted soon. The laws will be in accordance with the international standards, namely on public informing, on media services and on electronic media. Along with this, great efforts have been invested in implementation of the National Strategy on the Media.
The above mentioned shows the great awareness by the Serbian authorities of the importance of media freedom in the process of building and preserving democratic society. This awareness comprises the correlation between media freedom and the question of safety of journalists. The question of the safety of journalists is the key point of the human rights’ chain that goes through the freedom of expression, media freedom and ends with one of the fundamental human rights – the right to be informed. The safety of journalists as such, should be treated with unquestionable political will.
This political will was shown at the first Council of Europe Conference on the Media when Resolution No 3 was adopted. However, the process of creating unified standards, accepted by all member States, has just commenced. Yesterday, at the CM Meeting, we adopted the Secretary’s General Report on the Conference and following decisions that should pave the road towards those common standards.
We thank the Secretary General for the information document provided. As usual, it serves as a good landmark and guidelines for the further improvement of freedom of expression in our countries. I would like to draw particular attention to the Chapter III, where it is well pointed out that effective exercise of freedom of expression does not depend only on the State’s duty not to interfere, but may require positive measures of protection. It is on us, the member States, to actively create the reliable ambient for the freedom of media that would harmonise the professional ethics, codes of conduct, journalists free of threat and vulnerable positions. In this context, allow me to mention the establishment of the Commission for the investigation on murders of journalists in my country, as a concrete and, I would say, responsive action by the government. It has its goal in detecting perpetrators, but also as the preventive measure, showing the readiness of the State to assure the safety of journalists in conducting their work and duties.
This delegation commends the proposals to the Committee of Ministers for further action contained in the Secretary General’s document, and looks forward to co-operating with other delegations on further defining the goals on this matter. We are of the view that there are proper measures to be taken in the forthcoming period, but still there is a need to have a kind of follow-up in order to perceive results in the near future.
Mr Gvozden Flego – Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly - Committee on Culture, Science and Education
It is a great pleasure for me to assist in your thematic debate on the “Safety of journalists – Further steps for the better implementation of human rights standards”.
Since there is a direct connection between security of journalists and freedom of expression, I would like to recall that Parliamentary Assembly has produced several thematic reports on media freedom. As the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers are the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe, it is important for both of us to reinforce each other through close co-operation. Therefore, I highly welcome the initiative by the Austrian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, knowing that the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, Dr Michael Spindelegger, was member of the Parliamentary Assembly from 2000 to 2007.
I am rapporteur on the protection of media freedom and plan to produce a draft report by the end of next year. For the preparation of this future report, the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of PACE organised a hearing in the House of Commons in London on 21-22 May this year as well as another hearing in the National Assembly of Serbia in Belgrade on 6 November, on the eve of the ministerial conference there. Fact-finding visits are another means of collecting information and discussing issues in the field. For instance, I have been invited by the Turkish parliamentary delegation to visit Turkey. Being also rapporteur for opinion on the situation in Hungary, I also intend to visit Hungary next year.
At the Parliamentary Assembly, we have a long tradition of hearings on freedom of expression and media with media freedom associations and other institutions such as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. With national parliaments, voting on national media legislation and reviewing governmental action, the Parliamentary Assembly constitutes traditionally a vivid forum for analysing serious violations of media freedom – and for adopting political resolutions and recommendations by a transparent voting process in the Assembly after a debate in the Hemicycle here.
As you will surely hear from Mr Nils Muiznieks and Mr William Horsley about the most pressing cases of violations of media freedom in Europe at present, I would like to focus my intervention at first on two related aspects: the relevant work of the Parliamentary Assembly on the safety of journalists, as well as the value the Assembly attaches to your current and future action.
In its Recommendation 1702 on freedom of the press and the working conditions of journalists in conflict zones, the Assembly recommended to the Committee of Ministers in 2005 to work on this issue with the United Nations. At that time, Florence Aubenas and colleagues had been held hostage in Iraq, and my committee had organised a hearing in the French Senate. Therefore, I am glad that the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted on 26 November this year a Resolution on the safety of journalists, which names November 2nd as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. As the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has stated, this date was chosen in tribute to Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who had been murdered in Mali on 2 November 2013.
In its related Resolution 1438, the Assembly reaffirmed that journalists must be considered civilians in armed conflicts under Article 79 of Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. We also welcomed the Charter for the Safety of Journalists Working in War Zones or Dangerous Areas drawn up by the organisation Reporters Without Borders. European journalists are active in Afghanistan, Syria and other conflict areas. Their safety remains our common concern.
Following the murders of Hrant Dink in Turkey and Anna Politkovskaya in the Russian Federation, as well as numerous other murders and physical attacks on journalists, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted in 2007 its Resolution 1535 on threats to the lives and freedom of expression of journalists. Shortly before, several thousand signatures had been collected and forwarded to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly by Reporters Without Borders in Paris, demanding an investigation into the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. In this Resolution, the Assembly recalled the legal obligation of member States, in accordance with Articles 2 and 10 of the ECHR, to investigate any murders of journalists as well as acts of severe physical violence and death threats against them. This obligation stems from the individual journalist’s rights under the Convention as well as from the necessity for any democracy to have functioning media free from intimidation and political threats. Where attacks against journalists can be carried out with impunity, democracy and the rule of law suffer.
Resolution 1535 concluded by resolving to establish a specific monitoring mechanism for identifying and analysing attacks on the lives and freedom of expression of journalists in Europe as well as the progress made by national law enforcement authorities and parliaments in their investigations of these attacks. The Assembly consequently invited Reporters Without Borders, the International Press Institute, the International Federation of Journalists and other organisations to report such attacks to the Assembly. Since then, regular reports on serious violations of media freedom had been drawn up by the late Andrew McIntosh from the United Kingdom and Mats Johansson from Sweden. I have the pleasure of being the third to follow in this line of distinguished parliamentarians.
Let me also mention Resolution 1636/2008 on indicators for media in a democracy, which includes one important indicator: journalists must be protected against physical threats or attacks because of their work. Police protection must be provided when requested by journalists who feel threatened. Prosecutors and courts must deal adequately, and in a timely manner, with cases where journalists have received threats or have been attacked.
The related Recommendation 1848 invited the Committee of Ministers to take these indicators into account when assessing the media situation in member States.
Resolution 1636 also contained an invitation to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to draw up information reports on member States where problems exist in the implementation of these indicators. We thus very much appreciated the subsequent reports by Mr Thomas Hammarberg on the media situation in Hungary and Turkey, which were also a reference for the European Parliament and other organisations.
In 2010, Recommendation 1897 on respect for media freedom put forward for the first time the idea of collecting and distributing information about serious violations of media freedom. Referring to its Resolution 1636, the Assembly asked the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to allocate the resources necessary to collate information on a continuing basis from media freedom organisations.
As this invitation to the Secretary General had not been followed up within three years, my Swedish colleague Mats Johansson proposed in January 2013 in his draft recommendation on the state of media freedom that the Committee of Ministers addresses an open invitation to media freedom organisations to regularly report serious violations of media freedom to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, and asks the latter to make such information available to the relevant bodies of the Council of Europe. Mats Johansson proposed furthermore that the Committee of Ministers should consider the feasibility of creating an Internet-based platform for the processing and dissemination of the information collected hereby.
While Mats Johansson’s Resolution 1920 on the state of media freedom in Europe was adopted by the Assembly, this draft recommendation was finally not adopted for lack of one or two votes. I may say that there was no opposition to this proposal, but rather a disagreement by one or two influential delegations with the references to their countries in the adopted Resolution 1920.
Therefore, I am very grateful to the French initiative in the Committee of Ministers, which led to your decision of 10 July 2013: you agreed on the usefulness of addressing an open invitation to interested media freedom organisations to report serious violations of media freedom to the relevant Council of Europe bodies via the Secretariat; you also agreed to reflect on the modalities for the creation of an Internet based platform aimed at facilitating the compilation, processing and dissemination of the information collected to the above-mentioned bodies and to the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media.
I received the day before yesterday an e-mail about the Spanish journalists Javier Espinosa and Ricardo Garcia Vilanova, who are held captive by Islamic terrorists in Syria since 16 September this year. I am sure the Spanish Ambassador and possibly also other members of your committee know about this case. But I assume that not all bodies of the Council of Europe have such information. This is the reason why we – and I mean we as the whole Council of Europe – need to move ahead with the French initiative in the Committee of Ministers, which so ideally takes up an initiative developed by the Assembly in 2010 and provides a practical European follow-up to the UN General Assembly resolution on the safety of journalists.
Ms Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, participated in my committee’s hearing in Belgrade on 6 November and welcomed this initiative. I believe I can speak on behalf of my committee that we highly appreciate your initiative and are willing to support it by being closely associated with its implementation. I could, for example, imagine that the Parliamentary Assembly would be ready to organise a conference on media freedom in Europe together with the Committee of Ministers and relevant media freedom organisations next year. Such a conference could be a good occasion to launch a specific website, with the financial support by France.
Media freedom is a constant challenge. There is no freedom without responsibilities, and my Danish colleague Mogens Jensen is currently preparing an Assembly report on media responsibility and media ethics in a rapidly changing media environment. However, attacks on journalists and de facto impunity for the attackers cannot be tolerated in any democratic society governed by the rule of law.
Thank you very much.
Mr Nils Muižnieks – Commissioner for Human Rights
The safety of journalists and media freedom has occasionally been a focus in my country visits, and it is also the subject of regular media and conference interventions.
Murders, attacks, threats and other pressures sometimes stem from criminal groups or terrorist organisations – this is often case when journalists are reporting on conflicts. Other attacks stem from reporters dealing with official corruption – here the source of the attacks can be linked to powerful business interests which sometimes have links to certain state officials. Still other attacks come from the police in the context of demonstrations – this clearly implicates the state, which has an obligation to facilitate the work of journalists.
Whatever the source of the attacks, several things are needed:
• Effective investigations, prosecutions and dissuasive sanctions for those who ordered the attacks and those who carried them out;
• Measures to protect journalists, such as police protection;
• Unequivocal political signals from the highest level that such attacks are attacks on democracy;
• More media sensitive policing.
Since I took up my mandate in April 2012:
- three journalists have been killed in Council of Europe area because of their work – all three of them in the Russian Federation. One other Russian journalist was attacked in 2008, never recovered and died in April of this year.
- About 200 journalists have been physically attacked.
o this includes the more than 50 national and international press workers covering the Gezi events in Turkey subjected to police violence, causing injuries and damage to equipment, and
o around 40 journalists of national and international media physically assaulted and severely injured while covering public protests in Ukraine.
- At least 43 journalists have been imprisoned or detained:
o the largest numbers are in Turkey and Azerbaijan, but with individual cases in Russia, Italy and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” as well;
o some for charges linked to their work, under criminal defamation provisions, which raises issue of legal framework governing media;
o others on charges which defy credibility, e.g. drug trafficking, espionage or hooliganism, or for participating in other activities, which raises the issue of independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
- Finally, an undetermined number of journalists in Council of Europe member States are facing pressure, such as threats, harassment, obligations to reveal their sources, or searches operated in media outlets.
Recent cases include:
o in Lithuania, the Special Investigation Service summoned and interrogated reporters of Baltic News Service, one of the largest news agencies in Lithuania, to disclose their confidential sources;
o in the UK, the detention, questioning and seizure of equipment of the partner of Glenn Greenwald, a journalist who revealed surveillance programme of the NSA, can also be seen as pressure on Greenwald due to reporting.
- All these situations have a chilling effect on journalistic freedom and need to be addressed. As free expression increasingly exercised over Internet, there is a need for shift in thinking on protection issues – not only journalists, but those who express selves in the public interest, e.g., by exposing corruption or maladministration. This includes bloggers, reporting citizens etc.
With this in mind, issues of safety and the protection of journalists, both online and off-line, will remain important areas of my work. I will visit journalists in detention and raise individual cases with the relevant national authorities, and continue to raise awareness of these cases.
In this work, we have several important partners – not only associations of journalists and specialised NGOs, but also at UN level: the special rapporteur on freedom of expression, who is doing path breaking work, and UNESCO, which has a special programme on the safety of journalists. The OSCE representative on freedom of the media, with which my office is in regular contact, is a particularly important partner.
It is of crucial importance that we keep this issue high on the agenda and work together to provide a safer environment for journalists.
Mr Michael O’Boyle – Deputy Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights.
It is indeed an honour to speak to you today on the safety of journalists under the European Convention on Human Rights. I thank the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General for inviting the Registry of the Court to take part in this important debate. The Court is pleased to take part in this thematic discussion this morning. Many cases concerning the protection of journalists have come before the Court and have led to an impressive body of case law. Let me say a few words about the leading principles developed in this area.
State obligations to protect the physical integrity of journalists under the European Convention on Human Rights can perhaps be simplified to 3 Ps: prevention, protection and prosecution. For the purposes of my presentation I would like to illustrate these obligations by way of 3 short scenarios:
Scenario 1: An on-line journalist receives death threats posted as comments on his website or through a social networking platform following publication of a provocative news piece where he criticizes those in power. He contacts the police and asks them asks for help.
Scenario 2: A daily newspaper complains that it is the victim of attacks and that its journalists are the subject of harassment. One of the paper’s journalists is imprisoned for insult and defamation. As a result of the attacks the newspaper alleges that it is forced to cease publication.
Scenario 3: The husband of a political journalist reports the disappearance of his wife who he fears has been murdered because of her journalism.
Let us start by looking at the first scenario. Article 2 of the Convention requires States to take appropriate steps to safeguard life; this is the so-called positive obligation. In certain circumstances this obligation entails taking preventive operational measures to protect a journalist whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another. For a positive obligation to arise under Article 2 it must be established that the authorities knew or ought to have known of the existence of a real and immediate risk. The Court has accepted that not every claimed risk to life can entail such a Convention requirement. This is because of the difficulties in policing modern societies, the unpredictability of human conduct and the operational choices that must be made in terms of priorities and resources. How do the authorities assess when to take these preventive operational measures? The particular vulnerability of the journalist is relevant. Journalists who cover politically sensitive topics place themselves in a vulnerable position vis-à-vis those in power. Other journalists, who report on sensitive gender issues or criminal activity, or those with unpopular views, or those from an ethnic or national minority, may also require protection from the authorities.
The second scenario deals with the complaints by a newspaper following serious attacks and violence against its journalists, causing it to close down, as well as the imprisonment of one journalist.
A positive obligation to take action to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the press also exists under Article 10. States must ensure that private individuals can effectively exercise the right to communicate between themselves. This is because freedom of expression constitutes an essential basis of a democratic society. If newspapers are forced to close down because of threats, freedom of expression would be a theoretical and illusory right, perhaps enshrined in a domestic constitution and an international treaty, but not practical or effective in real life. We all know that democracy thrives where people breathe freely, speak freely, and are able to challenge orthodoxy, where journalists can report the truth without fear of the consequences.
As for the imprisonment of a journalist for insult and defamation, this will only be compatible with Article 10 in exceptional circumstances, notably where other fundamental rights have been seriously impaired (such as, for example, in cases of hate speech or incitement to violence). The “chilling effect” that the fear of such sanctions has on the exercise of journalistic freedom of expression is evident.
The third scenario depicts the alarming and increasingly real situation of a journalist who disappears and is presumed dead, or is murdered because of her profession. The obligation to protect the right to life also requires that there should be an effective investigation when individuals have been killed, whether by State agents or private persons, and in all cases of suspicious death.
What does this entail? Firstly, that the authorities themselves instigate the investigation (not that they wait for a next-of-kin to do so). That the investigation must be independent from those implicated in the events. It must also be effective in the sense that it is capable of leading to a determination of whether the force used was or was not justified and to the identification and punishment of those responsible. Financial compensation is not enough.
“Those responsible” means not just those who perpetrate the crime, but also those who instigate and organize it. Indeed, this point has been underlined by the Committee of Ministers on numerous occasions in the execution of well-known judgments by the Court.
Prosecuting perpetrators and organisers of violent crimes against journalists is essential in the fight against impunity. On 30 March 2011 the Committee of Ministers approved Guidelines on Eradicating Impunity for serious human rights violations. Statistics from civil society groups show that world-wide since January 1992 to February 2013, 971 journalists suffered violent deaths directly related to their work. In 88% of these murder cases, there has been total impunity. Impunity (which itself erodes the rule of law) is arguably one of the causes of the high number of journalists killed every year.
How will the case law of the Court evolve? The Court has already accepted that non-governmental organisations, like the press, may be characterised as social “watchdogs” and that their activities warrant similar Convention protection to that afforded to the press. We can perhaps expect typical “press” cases to be brought in the future by an enlarged and atypical group of applicants claiming a similar status to the press: NGOs, human rights defenders, bloggers.
Another area which may develop is that of interim measures under Rule 39. The Court has the power to order the equivalent of an injunction, in ‘life and limb’ cases, usually where a person is to be extradited to a place where [he or] she will be tortured or killed, or in cases where medical treatment is denied. If it were possible to present compelling evidence that a journalist has been targeted and that the state is complicit or that the State refuses to provide the necessary protection, it is possible that the Court could order interim measures to require the State to provide the required protection. In this context I would draw your attention to the early warning system and rapid response system that has been developed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights through the use of interim measures that puts Governments on notice concerning attested threats to the lives of human rights defenders and journalists (as well as others) and requires them to take positive steps to protect those concerned. This is a system that merits study by the Council of Europe because it addresses the issue of preventive upstream mechanisms that offer a real measure of protection against genuine threats.
And finally, the Court does not function in a vacuum, but operates within the framework of an overall Council of Europe human rights protection system. Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights refer to the Committee of Ministers’ standard setting texts in an increasingly systematic and structured way. Indeed, there is a two-way bridge between the Court’s case law having an impact on standard setting and standard setting having an impact on the Court’s case law. This is why it is so important for the Court to take part in these types of thematic debates. Thank you for the invitation.
Mr William Horsley – Media Freedom Representative of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) and International Director of the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield (CFOM)
Mr Chairman, Mme Deputy Secretary-General, and Excellences, It is a privilege to be invited to speak to you today.
I will first assess the reasons for the difficulties the Council of Europe has experienced until now in responding adequately to the threats to the lives and work of journalists, and then propose some ways forward.
I represent the Association of European Journalists, and I am the international director of the Centre for Freedom of the Media at the University of Sheffield. I intend that my comments and proposals will also reflect the views of a wide range of other interested non-state organisations.
I greatly welcome the Secretary-General’s Discussion Paper, and the public acknowledgement by ministers at the recent conference in Belgrade that the current pattern of violence, intimidation and harassment of journalists in Europe is ‘unacceptable’. Valuable work is already being done by several branches of the Council of Europe, including the Media Division, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Venice Commission and the Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Committee of Ministers’ decision to give priority to the safety of journalists is an important recognition that that freedom of expression is an ‘enabling right’. When it is denied, other rights are also restricted or destroyed.
European journalists’ organisations and NGOS risk their lives in many parts of Europe to inform the public on matters of vital concern to citizens. Many are struggling to build safety networks and to defend themselves against arbitrary detention or violent attacks. They hope to see more active and dynamic interventions by the Council of Europe. They urgently need help.
Many of those organisations are now dismayed at the failure of the Council of Europe so far to take effective measures to protect journalists and journalism from many forms of obstruction and attack. It is already nearly four years since the Committee of Ministers, declared that ‘other means’ are essential to protect freedom of expression and freedom of the media, in addition to the vitally important work of the European Court of Human Rights.,
Yet no ‘additional means’ has yet been forthcoming. The problems have been identified in greater detail, but the operative work is still to come.
Meanwhile, unfortunately, the security of journalists has continued to be weakened, especially in three ways, of which we see examples almost every day: 1) the increase in the number of journalists, bloggers and others who have been jailed after writing or speaking critically about issues of public interest; 2) the heavy toll of journalists attacked and injured or killed, sometimes by hired hit men or thugs, and sometimes by police officers, without those responsible being brought to justice --especially at times of elections and political tension, as we have seen recently in Ukraine; interference with the media during elections distorts the results and undermine public trust in the political process; and 3) persistent judicial harassment, intimidating behaviour by state officials and suffocating regulations: recently concerns have focused in particular on secret and massive-scale surveillance and interception of electronic communications. That poses a systemic threat to the confidentiality of journalistic sources, an essential foundation for press freedom and better protections are needed.
Why does ‘implementation’ of agreed standards seem to be so difficult in the matter of protecting journalists’ safety? The reason, in my view, is structural. In an inter-governmental organisation such as the Council of Europe only a strong and independent authority would be capable of upholding those rights in the face of the determined exercise of state power, or fragile institutions.
Until now such an authority has not been allowed to come into being. In the Council of Europe now it is only the Court which has that moral authority over member States, as well as powers of enforcement. And its rulings come some years after any case is brought.
My proposal to you today is that the Committee of Ministers should act decisively to break this logjam. In deciding on the next steps to implement Council of Europe standards regarding the safety of journalists, I suggest that not only should the desirable goals be spelled out, but also the agency or means by which they can be fulfilled should be developed to meet this urgent need.
One option which should be considered is the establishment under the authority of the Secretary-General of a small specialised unit of not more than a few members, dedicated specifically to delivering a coherent strategy for the safety of journalists which can coordinate the three main actions mentioned in his Discussion Paper, and do so in a sustained way. This can also maximise the impact of activities by all branches of the organisation, including the Commissioner for Human Rights, without constraining their own autonomous actions.
Those three actions are the Monitoring of attacks against journalists in member States, a Rapid Response Mechanism to provide protection or relocation in cases of urgent need, and a top priority programme to end Impunity.
After several years of delay – as the Rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly has pointed out - the Committee of Ministers has already given its approval in principle to an Early Warning System of monitoring attacks against the media, using data provided by reliable monitoring organisations which can be shared using a website. This will be a big challenge but a vital first step towards real protection. Media and monitoring organisations need to be closely involved. It must be done to the highest standards and without further delay.
This independent collection of information could be backed up by asking member States to provide their own reports on how they have implemented agreed standards in the area of journalists’ safety.
As for a rapid response mechanism with capacity to provide physical protection, the Council of Europe could be guided by the practical proposal put forward in September by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report on best practice concerning the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
It suggests that such a mechanism should be an official State entity, made up of both law-enforcement officials and members of civil society and the media, including safeguards against undue pressure by state officials to ensure the confidence of the media community. It should serve especially journalists working on high-risk issues such as corruption and organised crime; and be able to provide protection measures such as mobile phones and bulletproof vests, and safe havens or emergency evacuation in critical situations when required.
Such a protection scheme would require a high level of trust between state authorities and journalists, but Colombia already provides a successful example of such a scheme, which has saved many lives of journalists and human rights defenders. It has transformed a situation of lawlessness for the better.
Latin America also provides a striking example of the authority of the Inter-American Court. Last year that court ruled on the case of a Colombian journalist murdered while filming a protest. It set out detailed standards concerning the State’s duties to provide physical protection for journalists and members of their families, and on the prosecution of crimes against them.
Might Europe have something to learn from this? Surely it should be considered.
The case law of the European Court of Human Rights itself provides very clear guidance regarding the positive obligations of States, when credible threats are made to journalists or others, both to put in place effective measures of protection and to investigate and prosecute killings and other attacks.
The Strasbourg court can also apply its Rule 39 to order interim measures of physical protection in certain life and limb cases concerning deportations of persons to a place where they face a risk of mistreatment or death. In view of the ministers’ own assessment that the current scale of threats and attacks directed at journalists is ‘unacceptable’, there may be a good case for applying interim measures in cases of other imminent threats to life.
The third big element is the fight against impunity. This goes to the heart of the link between a free, uncensored media and the maintenance of the rule of law for whole societies. A concerted effort is needed to assist state authorities to ensure effective investigations of crimes against journalists in connexion with their work and to guarantee genuine judicial independence. Surely this should be a priority, more than two years after the Committee of Ministers approved Guidelines for the Eradication of Impunity.
This programme should, I suggest, include developing an independent and professional culture among judges and prosecutors where that is lacking; and the adoption of laws shielding journalists from the risk of vexatious prosecutions; as well as laws that make attacks on the media an aggravated offence, which may attract higher penalties.
Excellencies, this debate is taking place in the context of an intense global focus on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of Impunity, as seen in the UN Action Plan, which has over 100 action lines for state and non-state actors to create a safe and enabling environment for the media, free of state or other partisan controls.
The UN Human Rights Committee has provided the clearest guidance to all States on their legal obligations to protect and ensure access to information and freedom of expression for a wide range of actors who carry out the function of journalism and fostering open public debate.
Europe has been a pioneer in tackling another scourge – that of torture -- through strong monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. Europe must now show an example and respond vigorously to the UN’s request to make sure the aims of the Action Plan to protect the lives and work of journalists in Europe. I ask you to consider these proposals favourably. Thank you.