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Resolutions on journalists' safety: How does the UN monitor their implementation?

A 5-minute IFEX guide to how the UN checks whether or not governments are putting their international commitments on journalists' safety and the problem of impunity into action - and how civil society can contribute.

This is one in a series of IFEX explainers aimed at strengthening the ability of civil society to engage in global spaces for free expression advocacy. To visit the hub page and see the whole set, click here.

Philippine journalists release doves to symbolize press freedom in the face of the rash of killings of media personnel in Manila, 23 February 2007
Philippine journalists release doves to symbolize press freedom in the face of the rash of killings of media personnel in Manila, 23 February 2007

JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images

"States should implement their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law to ensure the rights of journalists and other media professionals."
From the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the safety of journalists, 2013


1. Context

Several resolutions on the safety of journalists have been passed by UN bodies since 2012. As important as these are, they are meaningless if they are not implemented. And the only way to know if they are being implemented, is through monitoring. Various actors have the opportunity to do this: the media, in their role as watchdog; civil society organisations; regional organisations; and the UN itself. Each has distinct tools at their disposal.

This explainer focuses on two reports that the UN uses to monitor commitments and provides suggestions for ways that civil society can strengthen them. We end with a timeline on these reports that includes which States and NGOs contributed to them, and some additional resources. So, read on! Your contribution can make a difference!

First: some acronyms used in this explainer:

ACHPR: African Commission for Human and People's Rights
CoE: Council of Europe
HRC: United Nations Human Rights Council
IACHR: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
OHCHR: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
OSCE: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
UNGA: United Nations General Assembly
UNSG: United Nations Secretary General


2. So, what are these UN reports?

The UN delivers two biennial reports that follow up on UN journalists' safety resolutions:

A UNSG report on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. This document reports on the implementation of every UNGA resolution on this issue. Normally, UNGA resolutions are passed every two years, so implementation reports are biennial. Both resolutions and reports are passed in odd years; UNGA resolution around November and UNSG reports in September.

A report by the OHCHR on the safety of journalists. This document reports on the implementation of each resolution passed by the HRC. Normally, HRC resolutions are passed every two years, so implementation reports are biennial. Both resolutions and reports are passed in even years in September.

Both documents are available in the six official UN languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.


3. Why should civil society contribute to them?

These are the only UN documents that collect information on the implementation of UN resolutions on journalists' safety. They also provide a set of recommendations for better implementation that civil society groups can use for their advocacy efforts.

Contributions from civil society are needed if we want to ensure that States meet their commitments when it comes to applying measures to prevent, protect and prosecute attacks against journalists. If we do not monitor how governments comply with their UN commitments, how can we ensure they are accountable?


4. Ok, how?

Every time a report is going to be prepared, a call for inputs is shared by the OHCHR. Civil society organisations can provide mainly three types of inputs:

• Information on how international commitments agreed to in these resolutions are being implemented - or not - by the State in their countries.
• Information on actions taken by civil society on the issue of journalists' safety to contribute to the implementation of the commitments agree in resolutions.
• Recommendations on how to improve implementation of States' commitments made in these resolutions.

What you can do before the publication of a UN report:

Follow-up on calls for submissions. Every time a report is going to be prepared a call for inputs is shared by the OHCHR. To receive these calls, subscribe to this newsletter. Calls for UNSG reports are usually made in December of even years. Calls for HRC reports are mainly out in December of odd years. There is normally a period of 2 to 3 months to provide inputs.
Send your contributions to the reports including 1) data on the implementation, or not, of the commitments made by States, 2) information on actions taken by your organisations, preferably in cooperation with other groups, to advance the promotion of the safety of journalists, and 3) your recommendations on how to increase the implementation of international commitments by governments.
Think about connecting with other civil society groups in your country to make your submission stronger. The more groups that agree on a particular recommendation, the more likely it is going to be included in the report. You can do the same at the regional level.
Advocate for your government to provide inputs to the report, for example by sending a letter to your foreign ministry, raising the issue in meetings with governmental officials and using social media to ask them to contribute.

What you can do after the publication of a UN report:

Monitor whether your government is aware of the report's recommendations and is taking them into account when implementing their commitments on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
• If your government has not contributed to the report, tweet about it and share this information with local and national media outlets to report on it.
Help make the reports widely available and raise awareness about their recommendations among civil society groups in your country as well as at the regional level, among media outlets, and with society at large.
Use concrete recommendations made in the UN reports to support specific advocacy actions and campaigns for the safety of journalists in a given country or region
Advocate for reports' recommendations to be taken into account and used in other UN processes and mechanisms, such as the Universal Periodic Review, the special mechanisms and the treaty bodies.
Advocate for reports' recommendations to be taken into account by regional intergovernmental organisations, such as the ACHPR, the IACHR, the CoE and the OSCE.
Attend open debates on the reports, either at the UNGA in New York or the HRC sessions in Geneva, in person or via webcast.
Spread the word: Tweet about, write an article and post on social media. It is not easy to know the exact day these reports will be presented at the UN. You can check the agenda of the UN General Assembly for the report by the UN Secretary General in the UN Journal. It usually takes place in November. You can check the agenda of the HRC for the HRC reports in the HRC session's agenda. It usually takes place in the September session of the HRC.
Tip: Links to UN reports can be created by adding their number to the address undocs.org. For example: For HRC report 24/23, the link would be http://undocs.org/A/HRC/24/23 .


5. A timeline on UN reports (and which States and NGOs contributed to them)

(IFEX's explainer on the UN resolutions on journalists' safety may come in handy here).

2013
1st UN Human Rights Council Report 24/23 on the safety of journalists
This first report in response to the first HRC Resolution 21/12 on the safety of journalists (2012) includes a compilation of good practices, mainly taken by UN bodies and States, on the protection of journalists, the prevention of attacks, and the fight against impunity for attacks committed against journalists. It also includes a set of recommendations.

• States' contributions: 25. Austria, Bulgaria, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Grenada, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovenia, Sweden, the Syrian Arab Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uruguay.
• NGOs' contributions: 4. Centre for Freedom of the Media, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Journalists and the International Labour Organization.

Interested in watching the debate about this report? You can follow it here.

2014
1st UN Secretary General Report 69/268 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity

This first UNSG report in response to the first UNGA Resolution 68/163 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity (2013) is an overview of initiatives undertaken to ensure journalists' protection and it includes recommendations.

• States' contributions: 20. Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Czech Republic, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Luxembourg, Mexico, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Romania, Russian Federation, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Uzbekistan.
• NGOs' contributions: 12. Amnesty International, Belarusian Association of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists, Fondation Hirondelle, Global Network for Rights and Development, Human Rights House Foundation, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, International Committee of the Red Cross, Reporters Without Borders, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, SOS Droits de l'Homme et Démocratie, Press Emblem Campaign and Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders Unit (UDEFEGUA).

2015
2nd UN Secretary General Report 70/290 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity

This report updates information provided by the UNSG in his previous report, adding new recommendations. It is in response to UNGA Resolution 69/185 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity (2014).

• States' contributions: 22. Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Jordan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Morocco, Paraguay, Qatar, Serbia, Slovakia, the Sudan, the Netherlands, Ukraine, the United States of America, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), and Zambia.
• NGOs' contributions: 9 (4 IFEX members). Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Centre for Freedom of the Media (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom), Committee to Protect Journalists, Commonwealth Journalists Association, International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of Journalists, International Service for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and Rural Media Network Pakistan. The report has also benefitted considerably from the contributions received from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
• National Human Rights institutions: 10. Azerbaijan, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Georgia, Greece, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Mexico and Slovakia.
• Other UN bodies: 1. UNESCO
• Other regional organizations: 2. Organizations for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

2017
3rd UN Secretary General Report 72/290 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity

This report is prepared in response to UNGA Resolution 70/162 on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity. This report is of particular relevance as, for the first time, is dedicated to one specific theme within the broader issue of journalists' safety. It specifically looks at violence against women journalists, describing the current situation and initiatives undertaken by relevant actors. It also provides a set of useful recommendations.
• States' responses: 16. Argentina, Austria, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia and Uzbekistan.
• NGO contributions: 17. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Article 19, Committee to Protect Journalists, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, Fojo Media Institute, International Centre for Justice and Human Rights, International Federation of Journalists and National Federation of Brazilian Journalists; and from a number of members of IFEX: Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, Bytes for All, Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Freedom House, International Press Institute, Karisma Foundation, PEN International, Digital Rights Foundation and World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
• Other UN bodies: UNESCO.

2018
A report will be prepared on the implementation of UN HRC Resolution 33/2 on the safety of journalists.


6. Links to more resources and information:

UN General Assembly website, including access to resolutions and reports by session
Human Rights Council website, including access to resolutions and reports by session
"Acting on UN Human Rights Council Resolution 33/2 on the Safety of Journalists". By ARTICLE 19.
"Working with the United Nations Human Rights Programme: A Handbook for Civil Society". By OHCHR
"How to follow up on United Nations Human Rights Recommendations". By OHCHR
"United Nations Human Rights Council - A Practical Guide for NGO participants". By OHCHR
UN Web TV

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