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Remarks by H.E. Mr. Margus Kolga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Estonia at the Open Debate of the Security Council on Protection of civilians in armed conflict: protection of journalists in conflict situations.

27.05.2015

Mister President,

I would like to sincerely thank the Lithuanian presidency for convening this open debate on protection of journalists in conflicts. Unfortunately we have in the recent years witnessed many barbaric attacks against journalists and this number is not decreasing. Therefore we find it extremely important to give regular – and more frequent – attention to this issue at the Security Council. Estonia welcomes the adoption of the resolution on protection of journalists earlier today. We have co-sponsored it and would like to thank the Lithuanian presidency for all their hard work.

Estonia aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union.

Mister President,

Estonia is a firm believer in the value of the freedom of expression. It is often through the tireless work of journalists in the frontlines of the most dangerous conflicts that light is shed on issues of most serious concern to the international community. On many occasions the credible information provided by the journalists – sometimes working under extreme duress and sacrificing their own well-being – can help save lives.

It has been said, that at the outbreak of an armed conflict the first casualty is often the truth. As nowadays the information moves at the speed of light, it is of utmost importance to convey accurate and impartial media reports from conflict zones and bring them to the public attention as quickly as possible.

But often it comes at a cost. Unfortunately, journalists, correspondents and media workers – especially those working in conflict zones – have become deliberate targets of brutal attacks – attacks that have exceeded any level of humanity. Journalists are humiliated, imprisoned, tortured, executed and murdered by their own governments, parties to the conflict or terrorist organisations – whether beheadings carried out by Daesh or executions organised by Al-Qaeda. It can also happen in the peaceful office of a magazine as in the case of Charlie Hebdo.

Despite increased attention by the international community there has been very little progress in limiting the number of journalists killed – 370 in the past 10 years – and in bringing perpetrators to justice. Besides the threat to their lives, journalists also face other obstructions in their job at the conflict areas such as denial to access, censorship and harassment, arbitrary detention and direct attacks. 

Mister President,

International organisations, governments, media and other actors must work together to strengthen the safety of journalists and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks. Considering the existing international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human rights, the Third Geneva Convention and its Additional Protocol I, UNSCR 1738/2006 and many others, the necessary judicial framework should be sufficient to protect journalists even when they report from conflict zones. Yet sadly in almost all cases the perpetrators of crimes against journalists escape justice.

It is important to promote human rights, fundamental freedoms and rule of law and keep on reminding that an attack against a journalist is an attack against a civilian and, whether in an international or in a non-international armed conflict, it also amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

In our view tackling impunity and sentencing the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes carried out against journalists should be the best possible deterrent for any future offenders. While we agree that the national governments of the countries in conflict should be the first in line to prosecute the perpetrators, we strongly encourage the Council to consider referring such cases to the International Criminal Court.

Mister President,

In conclusion, Estonia as a member of UNESCO Executive Board calls upon all relevant actors to support the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and urges to share good practices on the safety of journalists.

Thank you very much, Mister President.

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