Vienna Expert Consultations on “Safety of Journalists: Towards a more ffective international protection framework”
Concluding Remarks by State Secretary Wolfgang Waldner
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me say a few words of thanks at the end of these Vienna Expert Consultations on Safety of Journalists. I understand that you had a very lively and fruitful discussion today and I am particularly grateful for your active participation and valuable contributions. We have benefitted from your important experience in this field, which gave a sound basis to the discussions. The presence of two Special Rapporteurs underlined the importance the international community attaches to this topic. It is a key issue for the work of UNESCO as well as for the OSCE. We hope that the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council in Vilnius will pave the way for a strong international commitment on the safety of journalists.
The aim of these consultations in Vienna was to explore possibilities and ways how to respond to the worldwide increase in attacks against journalists. Many journalists today are threatened, arbitrarily detained or forced to leave their country. The increase in targeted killings is of particular concern. Such attacks constitute a serious threat to fundamental freedoms, to democracy and to the cause of human rights as a whole. Values we all cherish and are committed to uphold.
Your presence here today in Vienna sends a strong message to perpetrators who kill, assault, intimidate or lock away journalists: These acts have to stop and perpetrators must be brought to justice.
At the same time, we need to focus our attention on those journalists who, as we speak, operate in dangerous and difficult situations. There is a growing community of states, organisations and civil society jointly pursuing the goal to fight for a more effective international framework for the protection of journalists.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your discussions were focussing on political commitments and actions to strengthen the international legal framework as well as to address impunity and the prevention of future violations. Despite clear obligations serious shortcomings were identified in the implementation of universally accepted international standards and norms. Our primary challenge therefore is to reduce this wide protection gap. Let me briefly recapitulate some of the most salient points.
Under international law there is a clear duty and responsibility to protect journalists. This is a fundamental pillar of the universal, inalienable right to press freedom.
It was underlined that the obligation to protect applies in all circumstances, both in conflict as well as in times of peace. This obligation includes the guarantee to enable journalists to exercise their work independently without any interference, as well as to ensure access to information. Measures to limit this right can only be taken in strict accordance with human rights standards.
As today’s discussions have confirmed, the biggest threat for the effective protection of journalists is impunity for those responsible for attacks. The fact that more than 90 % of reported cases of abuse remain unresolved speaks for itself. The current climate of impunity is prompting fear and leads to self-censorship of journalists. Holding perpetrators to account and providing victims with adequate compensation is the most effective way to guarantee the safety of journalists and will therefore contribute to preventing future attacks against journalists.
The Vienna consultations provided an important opportunity to identify best practices and lessons learned on how to ensure effective prevention of attacks against journalists. In this context, I would like to mention three specific steps that would make an important contribution to preventing future attacks:
- First, the sharing of best practices and lessons learned on the protection of journalists.
- Second, the development of responsive early warning mechanisms, at local, regional and international level. Important work is already being done by UNESCO, the ICRC and OHCHR, and we need to build on that.
- Third, ensuring proper training of the security sector and also of journalists themselves.
Your discussions brought to the fore innovative ways journalists are applying on a daily basis to ensure their own protection. Consolidation of existing standards and guidelines, as well as concrete measures to promote them, may be necessary.
Further reflection is necessary to address remaining open questions with regard to the protection of so-called „citizen journalists“, which are not affiliated with any media company.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Where do we stand after one day of discussions?
The consultations have outlined a road-map to move forward in a comprehensive and effective manner on the way towards a more efficient protection framework. While we need to step up our efforts, we can build on existing standards and practice. The spirit of cooperation which prevailed at today’s meeting needs to be brought back to the different regions, to our countries and to international organisations.
Let me highlight some of the concrete elements of this Vienna Agenda:
- We need to be more systematic and vigorous in condemning attacks against journalists and violations of their rights;
- We need to devote more efforts to fighting impunity and to holding the perpetrators of attacks against journalists accountable;
- We need to ensure better cooperation and coordination among the various international, regional and local actors, including in establishing effective early warning mechanisms;
- We need to call on all relevant actors to comply with existing standards on the protection of journalists;
- Finally, we need to ensure full cooperation with existing protection mechanisms, in particular with Special Rapporteurs and Representatives, who play a crucial role in monitoring compliance.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The protection of journalists is high on Austria’s human rights agenda. We have made it one of our priorities during the Austrian membership in the Human Rights Council.
As has been shown today, there is a great expectation that the Human Rights Council, as the supreme human rights body of the United Nations, should play a more prominent role in strengthening the protection framework for journalists.
Austria is planning to introduce the results of this meeting into a series of activities in the framework of the Human Rights Council. The summary just presented to you by Ambassador Strohal reflects these results. We hope to circulate it shortly to all participants and to publish it on the website of our Ministry.
Our ultimate objective is to achieve a substantial resolution by the Council with a view to placing the protection of journalists firmly on the international agenda. We want to focus on eradicating impunity and on preventing future attacks.
In conclusion, I would like to thank IPI and Ambassador Strohal for the successful conduct of this meeting today. Let me also reiterate my gratitude for your participation and commitment. We are looking forward to continuing the close cooperation with our partners on the safety of journalists. Your support and the partnership with civil society will be essential to make this project a success.