Media Freedom: New report provides advice to states to promote more effective investigations into abuses against journalists


A new report published today by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom signals the vital need for effective investigations into abuses against journalists and recommends that states, notably members of the  Media Freedom Coalition, should set up a standing international Investigative Task Force – made up of vetted and trained investigators, forensic experts and legal specialists – that can quickly deploy to crime scenes, and support national investigators as well as UN investigators as needed.

The publication of the report is marked by a virtual launch event organised by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)as part of the  International Bar Associations (IBA) Virtually Together Conference. Click here to register for the event.

Authored by Nadim Houry, Executive Director of the Arab Reform Initiative and member of the High Level Panel, the report, ‘Advice on Promoting More Effective Investigations into Abuses against Journalists  is the fourth report to be released by the Panel that focuses on improving international mechanisms to enforce international human rights norms. The report has been endorsed by the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and the International Bar Associations Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), as well as,

·  Ambassador Stephen J Rapp, Senior Fellow at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Centre for Prevention of Genocide and at Oxford University’s Centre for Ethics, Law & Armed Conflict, Chair of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) and former US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice;

·  Association of European Journalists;

·  Centre for Freedom of the Media, University of Sheffield;

·  Committee to Protect Journalists;

·  David Kaye, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression;

·  Federica D’Alessandra, Executive Director Oxford Programme on International Peace and Security at the Blavatnik School of Government’s Institute for Ethics, Law, and Armed Conflict, and also holds an appointment with the Oxford Bonavero Institute for Human Rights. Co-Chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Law Committee;

·  Justice for Journalists;

·  Media Legal Defence Initiative;

·  Patrick Penninckx, Head of the Information Society Department of the Council of Europe; and

·  Reporters Without Borders.

The report identifies two main factors for the ongoing failure to conduct effective investigations, namely 1) the lack of capacity to undertake investigations owing to ineffective institutions and endemic corruption and 2) the lack of political will to pursue accountability. Fundamentally, persistent impunity has emboldened attackers, leading to further assaults and even killings of journalists and media workers.
According to UNESCO , on average, a journalist is killed every five days. Over the past twelve years, more than 1,000 journalists have been killed for their reporting and role in ensuring the right to information for society; in nine out of ten cases, perpetrators go unpunished. The large majority of killed journalists are local journalists working close to home. Aside from fatal attacks, journalists are increasingly exposed to other forms of violence and harassment including kidnappings, forced disappearances, unlawful imprisonment, and physical attacks. Online threats and harassment are also a growing issue with female journalists disproportionately targeted by harassment and abuse online. Further, the Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2020 suggests that some countries have taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic to settle scores with independent journalists. The evolving nature of threats and attacks requires an evolution in the way national and international authorities investigate them.
The report concludes with recommendations that signatories to the Global Pledge on Media Freedom and other key governments adopt a three-pronged strategy to strengthen investigations into attacks on journalists through:

1.    Setting up a standing international Investigative Task Force (IFT) that can quickly deploy international experts to support national as well as UN investigators;

2.    Supporting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to collect evidence related to crimes against journalists and strengthening their capacity to transfer this evidence to UN mechanisms and courts with jurisdiction; and

3.    Strengthening the UN’s capacity to hold the worst violators of journalists’ rights politically accountable through:

o Creating the role of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the Safety of Journalists to give political weight to UN efforts to follow up on investigations into attacks on journalists.

o Creating a list of countries or armed groups that are the worst perpetrators of attacks on journalists. The UN Secretary General would be tasked with presenting this data to the Security Council and the General Assembly and inclusion on the list would lead to a range of graduated measures including targeted financial sanctions against perpetrators of attacks on journalists.

In the absence of political will to create a permanent UN investigative body into attacks on journalists, the report recommends hosting the investigative task force by an organization with global reach, independence, and the right convening power. A natural candidate would be the International Bar Association, which is already acting as the Secretariat for the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom and is a pioneer in promoting human rights and the rule of law.
Nadim Houry, remarked: ‘Rampant impunity has created a chilling effect for media freedom. Despite repeated promises at the international level to tackle impunity, there are still too few mechanisms actually investigating the attacks, reporting on progress of investigations or holding states accountable for failing to investigate effectively. It is time for a ‘Coalition of the Committed’ to lead the way in setting an international investigative task force that can bring perpetrators to justice. This coalition – which should naturally include the states that signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom – should also strengthen the UN response to the worst perpetrators of attacks on journalists so that there is a political cost for those who attack journalists.’

Amal Clooney, Deputy Chair of the High-Level Panel, added‘Although many states say they wish to protect the press, journalists are being murdered across the globe with impunity. In nine out of cases, perpetrators are never brought to justice. I am proud to launch the Panel’s fourth report today, focusing on the need for effective international investigations into crimes committed against journalists. The report, drafted by human rights expert Nadim Houry, argues that states should create a task force of vetted and trained investigators, forensic experts and legal specialists that can quickly deploy to crime scenes and support national and UN investigations into crimes against journalists. It forms part of a series of Panel reports recommending ways to improve the enforcement of international human rights law with the aim of changing the paradigm from impunity to accountability. I look forward to receiving governments’ responses to our detailed recommendations.’

IBAHRI Director, head of Panel Secretariat and Panel member, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘As a criminal law practitioner with over 40 years’ experience of serious cases, I have seen what happens when the perpetrators of crime enjoy impunity.  It destroys trust in the rule of law and any belief in justice. In 2019, I agreed to be part of the small, informal investigative team into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. It was clear that this case was particularly egregious example of the attacks being experienced by journalists and media representatives around the world. Without free expression there are no rights. For too long, impunity for such crimes has been perceived as insurmountable and the international community has only offered empty expressions of condemnation. With the creation of the International Investigative Task Force, states will be held accountable to deliver on their international obligations to protect human rights and uphold the Rule of Law. The Coronavirus epidemic has intensified attacks against journalists around the world. Now is the time to act.’

A recording of the session will be made available post-event on the IBA website here:

Notes to the Editor

1.    The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom is an independent body that was convened in July 2019, by Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, at the request of the UK and Canadian governments. The remit of the Panel is to provide advice and recommendations to governments to prevent and reverse abuses of media freedom.

2.    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute  (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
3.    The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession,  is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world’s bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

4.    The IBAHRI acts as Secretariat to the Panel. For more information, visit here.
5.    Follow news of the IBAHRI on Twitter

For further information, please contact:
Romana St. Matthew – Daniel
Press Office
International Bar Association
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