Statement by H.E. Mr. Edgars Rinkēvičs
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia
at Security Council Open Debate
Protection of Journalists in Conflict Situations
27 May 2015, New York
Thank you, Mr. President, for chairing this very timely debate on protection of journalists in conflict situations.
As early as 1946, at its very first session, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming that freedom of information is the cornerstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is committed. The right to freedom of expression depends upon the safety of journalists and media professionals. Furthermore, the work done by journalists contributes to increased accountability, transparency and the rule of law.
Dramatic changes in the media landscape, in particular the introduction of new technologies, have resulted in an unprecedented flow of information, including information from conflict settings. Independent voices of journalists and reports from conflict zones give the international community a unique insight into realities on the ground. They serve as a catalyst for rapid and effective response and, thus, are vital to the survival of a conflict-affected society. In this context, it is extremely important to not only safeguard but to strengthen the ability of the media to provide independent and reliable information.
Freedom of expression, both offline and online, and strengthening the independence of media are long-standing priorities of Latvia. We promote them as a part of our Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and in international organizations, including at the Human Rights Council, where Latvia is currently a first time member. At the beginning of May a conference to mark UNESCO World Press Freedom Day took place in Riga.
The resulting Riga Declaration underlined our commitment to promote a legal and institutional environment which ensures the safety of journalists; the urgent need to end impunity for crimes against journalists and media workers; and the essential contribution of journalists to the enjoyment of all human rights and the pursuit of sustainable development.
The international community has addressed the protection of journalists in conflict areas on numerous occasions. In 2006 the Security Council adopted resolution 1738, calling for urgent action. More recently the Human Rights Council and UNESCO have made the protection of journalists a top priority. Latvia endorses these efforts - especially the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which is not only a statement of ideals, but a tool for change.
Unfortunately, today the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity are once again at the top of the international agenda. Deliberate attempts to target journalists in conflict zones continue to increase in scale and number. Even though journalists working in conflict zones have the status of civilians and thus enjoy a range of protection guarantees, they continue to face manifold threats, including assassination, harassment, intimidation and kidnapping. These attacks constitute a clear breach of international humanitarian law. Threats posed by terrorist and radical extremist groups against journalists have also become a major challenge. Nor should we ignore that women journalists are particularly vulnerable and require special attention. For all these reasons the adoption of the Security Council resolution today, addressing the new challenges to the safety of journalists, is of particular importance, and we praise this achievement.
While there is clarity on what we would like to achieve, there is uncertainty on how to accomplish it. I believe that there are four elements that are essential. First, clear political will – which is at the heart of any successful government strategy. Second, a comprehensive, coherent and action oriented approach to the protection of all civilians, including journalists, in conflict-situations. Third, a broad strategy for conflict prevention that includes as its cornerstone the promotion of freedom of expression and access to information, and media freedom.
Such an approach calls for training programmes for journalists and the active involvement of civil society. And fourth, an enhanced role for United Nations peacekeeping operations, and strengthened international and regional cooperation.
Now is the time when international organizations, governments, media and others should work together to strengthen the means and mechanisms for protecting journalists, and holding accountable those who attack them. If there is one message today’s meeting sends to journalists in conflict zones, this is it.
Only through our common efforts will we ensure that no journalist in the 21st century, off-line or online, is attacked, intimidated and/or sealed off from the rest of the world by a new iron curtain.