Human Rights Council: End impunity for attacks against journalists


The UN Human Rights Council should pass a strong resolution to condemn threats, attacks and restrictions against journalists and media workers, and ensure that States take effective action to protect and investigate and prosecute attacks against them.

(Geneva) - The UN Human Rights Council should pass a strong resolution to condemn threats, attacks and restrictions against journalists and media workers, and ensure that States take effective action to protect and investigate and prosecute attacks against them, ISHR said today.

The Council is set to consider a resolution on 'the safety of journalists' at its current session in Geneva, which will have as its primary focus the need to tackle impunity for attacks against media workers.

‘It is vital that the Council pass a strong resolution which speaks to the dangerous situations facing many journalists and media workers,’ said ISHR’s Ben Leather. ‘This means recognising the range of threats they face, from murder to harassment and criminalisation’.

The resolution’s negotiation allows States to build upon the findings of the recent UN study and Human Rights Council panel discussion on the protection of journalists and therefore respond to the on-the-ground realities documented by ISHR and other NGOs this year. 

The UN study and report of the expert panel discussion include detailed proposals on how States ought to protect journalists (see paragraphs 56 and 58) and tackle impunity (paragraph 57). They also emphasise the importance of States consulting with civil society in the development and operation of protection programs, as well as in the training of investigators and prosecutors (paragraph 60).

Of the 20 submissions by ISHR to the Universal Periodic Review of States this year, 90% featured substantial information regarding threats and obstacles to the work of journalists, with the majority of States failing to prosecute physical attacks, whilst also maintaining official restrictions on their profession, contrary to international law.

‘Fighting impunity is a crucial factor in protecting journalists,’ said Mr Leather. ‘By incorporating the conclusions from the recent panel discussion into the proposed resolution, the Council has the opportunity to make practical recommendations to States regarding how to carry out their duty to protect by ensuring accountability for physical attacks and by ending the criminalisation of journalists.’.

Leading freedom of expression NGOs such as Article 19, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists have documented both the criminalisation of journalists and media workers, as well as the impunity which prevails following attacks against them. Meanwhile, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has documented the particular risks which journalists face when reporting on human rights violations.

A core group of Austria, Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, Qatar and Tunisia is heading negotiations over the draft resolution, which will be presented to the Council plenary before the session’s close on 26 September.

‘This resolution allows the Council to respond to the fact that, in many countries, journalists are one of the groups of human rights defenders which are most exposed to, and least protected from, excessive restrictions and severe attacks,’ said Mr Leather. ‘Their continued ability to play a crucial role in informing society, States and the United Nations about threats to human rights must be guaranteed.’.

Key elements for inclusion in the resolution on the safety of journalists

Over the last year, ISHR has conducted detailed research into the situation and protection of human rights defenders, including journalists and media workers, in twenty States around the world. Through this research, ISHR has identified the following key elements threatening the safety of journalists, which ought to be contemplated in the proposed resolution:

  • A lack of protection from threats and attacks (also highlighted in the conclusion to the Human Rights Council's panel discussion, paragraph 56);
  • A proliferation of laws restricting freedom of expression and criminalising independent journalism, including laws on defamation, libel, whistleblowers, secrecy, national security, insulting the State, access to the internet, access to information, and the like (also highlighted in the conclusion of the panel, p55);
  • State delegitimisation and criminalisation, rather than recognition, of journalists (panel 54);
  • Impunity for attacks against journalists (panel 57) and heightened risks for journalists working to expose human rights abuses or combat impunity;
  • State censorship, interference and arbitrary detention of journalists;
  • Laws which favour media monopolies and State control over plurality;
  • A lack of protection from attacks by non-State actors, including legal and illegal business; and
  • A lack of protection for journalists working around protests.

Contact: Ben Leather, Advocacy and Communications Manager, International Service for Human Rights, on


  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN Human Rights Council