The freedom to provide information lies at the heart of France’s DNA - 27 May 2015 [fr]
Protection of journalists in situations of conflict - Statement by Mr. François Delattre, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations - Security Council - 27 May 2015
I should like to thank you, Mr. President, for having organized this debate, which is today more necessary than ever.
I would also like to thank the Deputy Secretary-General for his statement as well as Ms. Pearl and Mr. Deloire for their important testimony, which allows us better to understand the challenges that journalists encounter on the ground and to identify concrete actions to better protect them. We will never forget Daniel Pearl or any one of the journalists who paid with their life for their commitment to the freedom of information. Their tragedy represents an obligation for all of us. I wish to say to Mariane Pearl that her commitment is a source of inspiration for all of us, and I wish to welcome her son, who will celebrate his birthday tomorrow.
I would also like to commend the tireless work carried out for many years by Reporters Without Borders to draw attention to the situation of journalists under threat and to find concrete ways to improve the situation.
On 7 January, in the heart of Paris, two terrorists attacked the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo with heavy weapons. They killed 12 people and wounded 11 others. By attacking that newspaper, terrorists killed not only individuals. When a journalist is killed, it is the freedom of expression that is targeted. As emphasized in resolution 2222 (2015), adopted by the Council today, a free and independent press is one of the essential foundations of our democratic societies. Even before the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, journalists everywhere have been the victims of violence and paid with their lives for the freedom of expression.
In 2014, as has been noted, some 66 journalists, 11 assistants and 19 citizen journalists were killed. Over 350 of them were placed in detention. Thousands more were the victims of harassment, arbitrary arrest and freedom-destroying legislation. This trend continues in 2015; 25, including many local journalists, have already lost their lives this year. Everywhere journalists are subject to persecution by authoritarian regimes that attempt to silence them. Thus some 100 journalists, professionals and non-professionals both, have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict there, including four French citizens. They paid with their lives for their determination to show to the world the reality of the indiscriminate repression affecting the Syrian people. In addition to persecution by the regime, there is also the barbarity of Daesh. This terrorist group does not hesitate to use the media to show the execution of journalists, staged in a macabre way that deeply shocks the human conscience.
The terrorists attack journalists because they represent everything that Daesh hates and tries to eradicate: freedom, pluralism, culture and democracy. In Iraq as in Syria, they are trying to create a black hole from which information cannot escape and where obscurantism and darkness reign supreme. These terrorists should know that their barbaric actions will only strengthen our collective determination to fight them.
Everyone agrees today that the challenge of protecting journalists is still far from having been taken up. It is first and foremost the responsibility of Governments to protect journalists and to allow them to carry out their duties independently and without hindrance. That necessarily involves the fight against impunity for those who commit acts of violence. States must systematically investigate, apprehend and try the perpetrators. Currently, 90 per cent of the murders of journalists go unpunished, which promotes further acts of violence. That situation is unacceptable. The International Criminal Court can also play a role. According to the Geneva Conventions, journalists are civilians. Their murder can therefore constitute a war crime under the Rome Statute. The texts exist. They need to be applied.
It is up to the international community, in particular the Security Council, to consider this situation and to act to protect journalists. We should recognize the vulnerability of journalists in conflict zones and should more methodically and systematically ensure that peacekeeping operations guarantee their protection as civilians at risk. Peacekeeping operations should also report to the Council on human rights violations that target journalists.
As Mr. Deloire reminded us, violence against journalists is not confined to situations of armed conflict. Most attacks take place in countries at peace, most often when journalists are investigating cases of corruption or organized crime. In that regard, the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, developed under the auspices of UNESCO in 2012, is an excellent initiative. It should now be fully implemented by the United Nations system as a whole, in cooperation with Member States and civil society. It would also be important, as Mr. Deloire has urged, to consider ways to improve the coherence, effectiveness and visibility of United Nations efforts on the issue of the protection of journalists.
The freedom to provide information lies at the heart of every democracy. It is in the DNA of France and is one of our highest priorities, both internally and outside our borders. Every day, journalists, bloggers, war reporters and associated staff help us better understand the world and its changes. We can all see that the first reflex of the enemies of freedom is to gag the press, and that the first defenders of democracy are the independent media. Freedom of expression should be respected everywhere. It is our collective responsibility, including here in the Security Council, to work to ensure the full exercise of that freedom. Let us make that our shared fight.