September 27th will go down in our history as the day when the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted for the first time a motion affirming the importance of journalist safety as a fundamental element of freedom of expression. The resolution, tabled by the delegations of Austria, Brazil, Morocco, Switzerland and Tunisia, received the support of over 60 other delegations and was adopted without a vote.
Although the United Nations has over the years accumulated a glut of resolutions, covenants and declarations on the safety and protection of journalists throughout many of its structures and specialised agencies, the main issue remains their implementation and the lack of leverage to force governments to use these tools to tackle impunity.
However this new resolution brings the fight into the confine of the UN Human Rights Council which will give a new impetus to the effort to keep the pressure on countries unwilling to take up their responsibilities under international laws.
In fact it was not plain-sailing. The IFJ lobbied hard with the help of his unions many states, in particular the African group, to soften their initial opposition and rally them behind the motion.
The content of the resolution is also a major advance including new legislative measures and awareness-raising within the judiciary, law enforcement officers and military personnel, as well as journalists and civil society, regarding international human rights and humanitarian law obligations and commitments, the monitoring and reporting of attacks against journalists, and the commitment to dedicate the necessary resources to investigate and prosecute such attacks.
States are also encouraged to introduce "protection programmes, based on local needs and challenges, including protection measures that take into account the individual circumstances of the persons at risk, as well as, where applicable, the good practices in different countries".
Another breakthrough is the onus on the High Commissioner for Human Rights, working with the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression, to prepare a report on good practices "in the protection of journalists, the prevention of attacks and the fight against impunity for attacks committed against journalists." States and other relevant stakeholders will be able to contribute to the report which will be presented to the 24th Session of the UNHRC.
Although the litmus test remains if States will show their good faith by implementing in earnest the resolution and not leave it to gather dust on shelves in the halls of UN offices in Geneva, there is undoubtedly a renewed dynamic developing within the international institutions to reignite the campaign, something the IFJ and its unions worldwide have given priority to. Our visit a few weeks ago to the presidency of the UN General Assembly was the start of our global campaign to put the safety of journalists on top of their agendas.
The brutal murder of another journalist who was beheaded in Somalia yesterday, making it the 15th journalist killed there this year, must serve as a reminder that the time has come to move beyond mere words of condemnation or paper resolutions and take effective action.