Safety of journalists and the issue of impunity: Report of the Secretary-General (A/74/314) [EN/AR/RU]

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Seventy-fourth session
Item 72 (b) of the provisional agenda*
Promotion and protection of human rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms


The present report, submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 72/175, provides an overview of the current situation in relation to the safety of journalists and of the actions undertaken by Member States, regional organizations, the United Nations system and civil society organizations.

I. Introduction

  1. In accordance with General Assembly resolution 72/175, the present report provides an overview of the current situation in relation to the safety of journalists and of the action taken at the international, regional and national levels, including by the United Nations, taking into account the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.

  2. In the preparation of the present report, the Office of the United Nations Hi gh Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on behalf of the Secretary-General, sought contributions from Member States; international and regional organizations; national human rights institutions; and non-governmental organizations.

II. Current situation

  1. Freedom of expression and free media are essential to fostering the understanding and dialogue needed to advance overall efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In recent years, however, there has been a rise in the scale and number of attacks against the physical safety of journalists and media workers, as well as of incidents affecting their ability to exercise freedom of expression, including threats of prosecution, arrest, imprisonment, denial of journalistic access and failure to investigate and prosecute crimes against them (see resolution 72/175).

  2. According to the recent report of the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the safety of journalists and the danger of impunity, 2 legal impunity for perpetrators is still the norm for most killings of journalists, with less than 1 in 10 cases leading to a conviction. The report further states that between January 2017 and June 2019, 207 journalists were killed, of whom 117 were in countries not currently experiencing armed conflict.3 Many of those journalists were reporting on organized crime, local politics and corruption, and many had received threats prior to the attacks on them.

In addition to information received from these actors, the report draws on a range of public sources.

  1. According to UNESCO data, during the same period, 90 journalists were kill ed in countries experiencing armed conflict. A number of those journalists fell victim to suicide bombings and attacks by militant groups. Some of those journalists were said to have been reporting on issues such as civilian displacement, the plight of civilians in the conflict zones and military attacks by parties to a conflict.

  2. In addition to these worrying trends, the media landscape has evolved. New forms of media and communication have emerged, and new technologies are fuelling the rapid spread of targeted disinformation and smear campaigns. This not only has contributed to making the issue of safety and free media increasingly complex, but also has contributed to an erosion in the public trust in journalism. 5 Journalists are also facing more intimidation through misuse of laws as well as efforts and/or measures taken by those in public leadership positions to discredit their work. The proportion of women among fatalities has also risen, and women journalists are facing increased gender-specific attacks, such as sexual harassment (including online), sexual violence and threats of violence.