Joint Statement of the informal OSCE Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists “On the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists”

Delivered by Ambassador Jocelyn Kinnear, Permanent Representative of Canada to the OSCE at the 1448th meeting of the Permanent Council on 2 November 2023.

Mr. Chair

I am delivering this statement on behalf of the Informal Group of Friends on the Safety of Journalists: Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and my own country, Canada.

Ten years ago, in 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/163 proclaiming November 2 nd as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, and condemning unequivocally all attacks and violence against journalists and media actors, including torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, intimidation and harassment in both conflict and non-conflict situations.

Regrettably, over the past ten years, in the OSCE region and around the world, journalists have continued to be subjected to these threats and abuses, and we have seen, furthermore, the expansion of violence and harassment in the digital sphere as well. Intimidation, threats of violence and attacks against journalists have a chilling effect on media freedom and interfere with the exchange of information, opinions and ideas. This, in turn, has a detrimental impact on our societies, on democratic institutions and on our security.

Women journalists are disproportionately at risk of and affected by harassment, threats and attacks and are particularly targeted by online gender-based violence including harassment. A recent UNESCO discussion paper on Global trends in online violence against women journalists found that 73 percent of women journalists surveyed had been threatened, intimidated, and insulted online in connection with their work. UNESCO and Reporters Sans Frontières have also reported alarming increases in the detention and extrajudicial killing of women journalists over the last several years.

In this context, we welcome the recent launch by the Representative on Freedom of the Media of new Guidelines for monitoring online violence against female journalists. The Guidelines aim to provide a systematic monitoring and reporting system which will assist in protecting women journalists and preventing online violence from escalating. We also encourage participating States to support the efforts of the International Partnership for Information and Democracy and the Media Freedom Coalition in addressing the specific attacks on women journalists and media actors in the exercise of their work, including sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence, intimidation and harassment, online and offline. 

Ending impunity for crimes against journalists requires States to take action to ensure accountability by investigating allegations of violence against journalists in a timely, impartial, and effective manner; by bringing perpetrators to justice and by ensuring that victims have access to appropriate remedies.

Far too often, however, we see that instead of protecting journalists and investigating the crimes committed against them, states have instead criminalized journalism itself.

In 2023, the Russian Federation has fallen even farther on the RSF World Press Freedom Index which has observed that, since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared “foreign agents” or “undesirable organisations.”

In March, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested and faces up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges.

In June, Novaya Gazeta Europe was declared an “undesirable organisation” and Novaya Gazeta reporter Elena Milashina was attacked upon her return to Chechnya to cover a political trial. Novaya Gazeta’s former editor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov was declared a “foreign agent” in September.

These are regrettably only a few examples of the Russian Federation’s campaign to intimidate journalists and stifle media freedom.

Repression of journalists is also particularly appalling in Belarus as has been documented by the last Moscow Mechanism report as well as various reports by UN mechanisms. Freedom of expression has been undermined by repressive legislation and overly-broad definitions of extremism. Almost all independent media has been suppressed, and editors and journalists have been among those targeted for arbitrary arrest. The Belarusian Association of Journalists reports that over 30 journalists and media workers are currently imprisoned.

In both Russia and Belarus, journalists have specifically suffered for speaking out against Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Journalists and media actors in Ukraine – including those working in occupied areas - have also suffered while trying to report on the war itself. At least 15 media actors have been killed in Ukraine since February 2022.

As OSCE participating States we have all made commitments to create an enabling environment for media freedom which includes doing our utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media actors, avoiding undue restrictions on their work and taking effective measures to end impunity for crimes committed against them. With this in mind, and in order to better safeguard journalists and media actors throughout the OSCE region, we are also firmly of the view that the position of Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) should not be left vacant.

On this day dedicated to ending impunity for crimes against journalists, we must all recommit to fulfilling these important requirements for ensuring their safety. Ensuring the safety of journalists is integral to maintaining a strong and diverse media landscape which is crucial to challenge those in power to do better and demand accountability. It is a cornerstone of democracy and vital to our comprehensive security.