Safety of Journalists

Pursuant to the International Press Institute (IPI), in the period since 2000, more than 900 journalists have been killed as a result of their professional activities. The number of violent attacks against journalists is rising. The increase of targeted killings against representatives of the critical media is particularly alarming. At the same time, the number of resolved cases is appallingly low – around 94% of reported cases are never resolved and perpetrators enjoy impunity.

The safety of journalists is an essential condition for the realisation of the universal, inalienable right to freedom of the media, as stipulated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. States clearly have a responsibility to protect journalists so that they may enjoy a safe working environment. Unfortunately, this responsibility is being neglected far too often.

Only a comprehensive approach which includes media organisations, civil society representatives, States and international organisations as well as journalists, may result in the effective protection of journalists.

Austrian activities at the UN Human Rights Council and beyond

Combatting impunity for and preventing attacks against journalists is one of Austria’s priority issues during its membership, from 2011 to 2014, in the UN Human Rights Council, the most important UN institution for the promotion and protection of human rights. The UN Human Rights Council, which brings together State representatives, stakeholders from international organisations and civil society as well as independent experts, provides an ideal forum for advancing the above mentioned issues. 

Thus, Austria organised a high-level expert meeting on ”Safety of Journalists: Towards a more effective international protection framework” on 23 November 2012. The recommendations made at this meeting provide an important basis for further Austrian activities.

At the 20th session of the UN Human Rights Council in June 2012, a declaration on the “Safety of Journalists”, initiated by Austria, was adopted, and received support from 56 States.

At the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council, Austrian efforts culminated in the adoption of a resolution on the Safety of Journalists. The resolution was not only drafted and promoted with partners from all regions (Brazil, Morocco, Switzerland, Tunisia) as main sponsors, but found support from 67 States as co-sponsors. It strongly condemns all kinds of attacks against journalists, calls for independent investigations and bringing to justice of perpetrators, as well as for the implementation of preventive measures such as protection programmes for journalists. The resolution further requests the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to compile a report about “best practises” for the protection of journalists and to present a report at the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2013. Please find this report here.

Austria also supports the activities of UNESCO, which has assumed a leadership role for the safety of journalists within the UN system. Thus, UNESCO currently implements an Action Plan for the protection of journalists from violence and intimidation, in pilot countries such as Pakistan, South Sudan, Nepal or Iraq. In March 2014, a UNESCO report on the safety of women journalists, which Austria supported financially, was presented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. This study for the first time offers comprehensive data from all regions on the situation of women journalists, who are more often exposed to violence and face gender-specific forms of violence.

Other fora where Austria advocates the safety of journalists are the UN Security Council and the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Upon a common initiative by Poland, Switzerland and Austria, a conference on the safety of journalists was organised in Warsaw in April 2013.