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3 May 2012 – Protection of journalists in armed conflict – Speech by Mr. Martin Briens, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations

Excellencies, Madam Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I want to thank the representatives of the States and the United Nations, as well as the press and civil society personalities who agreed to participate in this event that has been jointly organized by France, Greece and UNESCO.

Your presence here today bears witness to your mobilization and your continued commitment to the independence and freedom of the press. Today we celebrate World Press Freedom Day and we know that the freedom of information is central to any democracy. Whether they are journalists, war reporters, fixers or related personnel, they are the ones who, every day, help us to have a better understanding of the world and its developments.

As the images shown before this debate demonstrated, as the photos in this chamber also show, and as the news has once again tragically shown over the last few months, journalists continue to pay a heavy toll for carrying out their profession.

More than 60 journalists died while exercising their profession in 2011 and 21 have died already in 2012. Many more have suffered intimidation, harassment, kidnappings, arbitrary detentions or torture. I’m thinking in particular of Gilles Jacquier and Rémi Ochlik who died in Homs in January and February 2012, of Lucas Delega, who died in Tunis on 17 January 2011 while covering the Jasmine Revolution.

The photographs of these 3 journalists, made available to us by their families who we would like to thank, take their places on either side of this podium. Unfortunately we could give many other names. I am also thinking in particular of the French journalist, Roméo Langlois, who was kidnapped on Saturday by the FARC and who is still being held hostage.

Faced with the upsurge in these tragedies, we proposed – more than 5 years ago now – together with our Greek partners a draft resolution at the UN Security Council. It was unanimously adopted on 23 December 2006. Through resolution 1738, the international community pledged to focus greater attention on the protection of journalists in armed conflict and the Security Council spoke with one voice to that end. It’s a decisive step. Through this resolution, we reminded all parties in conflict of their obligations with respect to the protection and security of journalists. We reaffirmed the obligation to prevent crimes perpetrated against journalists and, whenever these crimes are committed, to investigate and apprehend those responsible and bring them to trial.

More broadly, the unanimous adoption of this resolution solemnly affirmed our shared commitment to respecting the independence of journalists. Today’s debate should allow us to review the implementation of resolution 1738 and more generally to examine ways to improve the security of journalists so that they can continue, every day, to provide us with information as they courageously do so now.

This debate will firstly provide an opportunity to make an observation. This shared observation relates both to the progress represented by resolution 1738, which established a norm for the areas of armed conflict and allowed us to increase awareness of these issues, as well as to the recognition that on the ground just as many journalists are being imprisoned, just as many journalists are being killed, and just as many are being injured. This begs the question: is there a willingness to truly implement this norm that we’ve developed?

Subsequently, we will attempt to examine ways to advance its implementation. Some suggestions were already made during the previous session, but we will try, together with our stakeholders to take a more in-depth look at what we could do, what we can do here at the UN, at the Security Council, at the General Assembly, within the UN organizations. What we can do in each State – since that also depends on the Member States, as some speakers have already said -, not just in the areas of conflict but in their countries.

Civil society also has a fundamental role to play in order to make governments, as well as international organizations, aware of these issues. The role played by the profession of journalism is even more fundamental since the issue is of primary concern to it; it’s at the front line and will need the best possible conditions in order to exercise its functions.

A certain number of questions arise: What could we do in concrete terms in order to improve the protection of journalists on the ground? What role can training play? It’s not a panacea but it could nevertheless be helpful. Do we need to supplement the legal framework at the international level? What can we do to strengthen the legal framework at the national level? What can be done to increase awareness? What role can civil society play? Lastly, there’s the critical issue of impunity. When impunity exists, the crimes continue. How can we improve the fight against it?

I will now turn the floor over to you.

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Organisation des Nations Unies Présidence de la République France Diplomatie La France à l'Office des Nations Unies à Genève Union Européenne Première réunion de l'ONU