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AEJ joins call for more Safety for Journalists at OSCE conference

At an OSCE conference on Safety of Journalists, the AEJ joins calls for governments to counter violence with actions not words

Pressures are growing for concerted action by the 56 states of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to end the shocking record of killings, violence and legal abuses directed at journalists. A conference in Vilnius heard that 41 journalists have been the victims of targeted murders in OSCE states in the past ten years.

The AEJ urged OSCE governments to support the Vilnius Recommendations issued by Lithuania, the current chair of the organisation, and the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic.

The recommendations focus on the responsibilities of states with respect to laws fostering media freedom, safeguards to ensure swift and effective investigations and prosecution of those responsible for violence against journalists, and good practices to respect the legal rights of members of the media.

Lithuania will host an OSCE Ministerial Conference in December 2011 where the member states may announce new commitments with respect to protecting the safety and rights of journalists. All OSCE agreements must be by consensus, so a single state can in practice block any agreement. But reluctant governments may be persuaded to support an accord that they do not like if there is a strong groundswell of opinion in favour of it, and media freedom advocates hope that will be the case this time.

There were some signs of forward movement at the Vilnius meeting of state representatives, OSCE and UNESCO officials, and NGOs and journalists. A European Union representative stated that it is a “priority” for the EU to see that OSCE States can adopt a document on safety of journalists at the Ministerial Council in December. The US delegate said that “Impunity must end”, and that governments themselves bear the fundamental responsibility to ensure that journalists can work “without interference or reprisal by state authorities”.

US State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Melia called on Russia to do more to address the problem of impunity for those who attack journalists – including in the cases of Paul Klebnikov and Natalia Estemirova which remain unsolved. Mr Melia also called for governments and journalists to work in “partnership” to develop long-term solutions to persistent problems of targeted violence against journalists and impunity.

Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists pointed to “systemic shortcomings” in Russia’s much-criticised handling of the investigations into 17 targeted killings of journalists there since the year 2000. She asked the OSCE to publicly call on Russia to comply with its commitments on protecting freedom of expression, and also asked the Council of Europe to scrutinise and seek to enforce Russia’s compliance with its commitments; and she asked the European Parliament to monitor violations of media freedom in Russia and hold a public meeting on the issue of impunity there.
Alfiya Kafizova, an official of Russia’s the Investigative Committee, which was formed recently, to take charge of especially severe criminal cases including cases of killings and attacks in which journalists are targeted, denied that Russia had allowed a culture of impunity to develop by failing to effectively investigate the murders of journalists. “We are not satisfied if the organisers” of such crimes are not identified, Ms Kafizova said.

The AEJ’s Media Freedom Representative William Horsley urged OSCE states to demonstrate the political will to end the unacceptable series of attacks and killings of journalists, by agreeing on practical steps to deter violence and bring perpetrators to justice when they convene again in Vilnius again at ministerial level in December.

William Horsley put forward three actions which OSCE states could take to that end without delay: to amend their “green books” or military manuals on handling of the media in times of war or tension, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1738 of 2006 concerning states’ duties to protect journalists in zones of conflict and to prosecute violators of the principles agreed; to respond quickly and fully to the standard requests for detailed information made by the Director-General of UNESCO after each case when journalists are the victims of targeted killings; and to cooperate closely with UNESCO to agree a set of comprehensive and effective measures to be adopted by all states for the protection of journalists in the light of their critical role in holding state powers to account in the public interest.

UNESCO will in September 2011 host an unprecedented UN Inter-agency meeting of all relevant UN agencies and bodies to seek better protections for journalists’ safety. At the time of the most recent UNESCO review of states’ administrative and judicial responses to the murder of a journalist in their territory 13 out of 28 countries failed to respond at all to UNESCO’s request for information about the crime and any judicial follow-up. That poor record, together with the high annual toll of killings and attacks on journalists in scores of countries worldwide, lies behind the current efforts within UNESCO, as well as the OSCE and the European Parliament, to give a higher priority to enacting effective measures to deter such violence and to end impunity.