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"Protecting journalists in conflict situations
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· Intervention of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN United Nations Security Council Open Debate on ·

New York, 27 May 2015

Madam President,

I would like to thank you for organizing this important debate and to offer my delegation’s appreciation for Lithuania’s Presidency this month.

Madam President,

At the outset, the Holy See offers prayers for the journalists who have lost their lives in the faithful exercise of their profession and expresses solidarity and sympathies to their families. Let us acknowledge their tremendous contribution to our world.

Society has a right to objective information and it is through the observance of this exigency that the media are at the service of the common good. The role of journalists in providing information is not only among the principal instruments of democratic participation; it is also fundamentally necessary for sustaining the human community.

In promoting access to and providing information, dedicated journalists in conflict settings provide a lifeline to those trapped behind combat lines or caught in the crossfire. They also offer policymakers and the international community the information necessary to make informed and responsible decisions on how to end conflicts and assist those affected by them.

My delegation deplores the fact that over the last decade hundreds of journalists have been killed. In 2014 alone 69 journalists lost their lives and another 221 were imprisoned. In the current year, already 25 journalists have been killed and another 156 imprisoned. While danger is sadly a constant feature of life in conflict situations, there is no excuse for parties in conflict not to respect and protect journalists.

The importance of the role of journalists in conflict settings continues to increase in today’s interconnected world. The tremendous progress in information technology and the social media makes individuals and communities across the globe hunger for constantly evolving news from conflict zones. While such access to information has been a powerful tool in promoting global solidarity for victims of conflict and in expediting humanitarian assistance to those in need, it has also made it increasingly difficult for us, especially for policymakers, to assess the objectivity of the information being provided.

The parties in conflict are obviously not always reliable sources of objective information. The exigencies of and the need to justify military operations often trump the right to objectivity in information. Here lies the fundamental importance of journalists dedicated to truth and to the promotion of the common good. Here lies, as well, the grave danger that a party or parties in conflict would specifically target journalists faithful to their duty of objective reporting.

Madam President,

Today’s debate has highlighted a number of tools already at the disposal of the international community. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols grant protection for journalists and civilians in conflict settings. However, military protection policies and judicial accountability mechanisms remain insufficient and in many places nonexistent. In fact, according to the last report of the Secretary General on the protection of civilians (S/2013/689), in 90 percent of the cases, murders of journalists ended without convictions and only in less than five percent of the cases were the perpetrators apprehended and prosecuted.

The protection of journalists in conflict situation gains more urgency in the context of the new challenges that today’s conflict situations present. My delegation believes it is relevant to re-examine the current rights and protections of journalists in conflict situations, to see if they are still adequate, or whether more specific protection measures for journalists are needed, particularly in the context of conflicts perpetrated by non-state actors.

While it is the duty of governments to ensure that the measures already in place to protect journalists are fully applied, more often than not, in conflict situations State institutions break down or are impeded. Indeed, conflicts are frequently symptoms of deeper problems, including the weakness of State institutions themselves. To this end, the international community can play an important role in providing technical and financial assistance for needy countries to improve policies both to protect journalists and to address violations of already existing rules for their rights and protection.

Media organizations also have responsibilities in assuring the safety of their journalists. Journalists themselves should exercise tact, especially in situations in which the duty to objective reporting seems to collide with respect for the cultural values and religious beliefs of peoples involved in the conflict. While lack of objective information is a disservice to the truth, could put lives at risk and misguide policymakers and the public in general, lack of respect for cultural values and religious beliefs could only exacerbate the conflict.

Madam President,

My delegation salutes those who put their lives on the line so that the cries of those trapped in conflict situations can be heard and the voices of those longing for peace can find an echo. May the appreciation we have for journalists’ valuable work translate itself into greater efforts to protect them better in armed conflicts. Above all, let us all work together to banish wars and conflicts, so that no one may ever have to risk life and limb.

Thank you Madam President. 

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