UNITED NATIONS— Journalists and United Nations diplomats addressed the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to demand increased protection for those in the journalism profession.
Jan Eliasson, the United Nations deputy secretary-general, detailed the dimensions of the problem. In the past decade, he said, more than 600 journalists have been killed exercising what he called their critical role in society.
Just 10 days ago, he added, a Somali television journalist was shot and killed on his way home.
“Every time a journalist is killed by extremists, drug cartels or even government forces there is one less voice to speak on behalf of the victims of conflict, crime and human rights abuses," said Eliasson. "Every journalist murdered or intimidated into silence is one less observer of efforts to uphold rights and ensure human dignity. The least we can do when a journalist is murdered is to ensure that the death is investigated swiftly and that justice is served."
Somali reporter Mustafa Haji Abdinur - one of several journalists who spoke to the Security Council - said he is described in his country as a “dead man walking.” Abdinur, who reports for the French news agency AFP, said he will never be discouraged. He said that even sitting in the Security Council in New York, however, was not without risk.
"In showing my face to you and the world, I increase the threat of becoming attacked when I go back home. But I am a journalist. They may call me ‘a dead man walking,’ but I report the news,” he said.
Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC television in the United States, urged the Security Council to focus on two campaigns: one for free speech for activists who use media, the other for a renewed commitment to defend dedicated and trained professionals who take risks to deliver the kind of information the council needs to make its decisions.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rosemary DiCarlo, agreed. As she put it, journalists are literally the council’s eyes and ears in every corner of the world.
“Recognizing the value of the work of journalists reporting on conflict, this council has an obligation to help protect those who provide us with so much vital information. We thank journalists around the world who risk their lives to seek the truth and shine light on the darkness for the entire world to see. The Security Council could not do its job without you,” she said.
Another reporter appearing before the Security Council, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, said that for at least the past decade, there has been a systematic hunting down of journalists. Abdul-Ahad, who reports from his native Iraq for The Guardian newspaper, said there is a sense of immunity for killing a journalist.
“If you, ladies and gentlemen, can make an effort to recognize journalists as part of a humanitarian effort to tell a story. Many of you hate us, by the way, I know that," he said. "It’s a sign that we are doing our job properly. But there has to be some sort of balance. Just let us be there, treat us as human beings. Just don’t kill us.”
In his remarks, Deputy Secretary General Eliasson said more than 90 percent of those who kill journalists go unpunished.