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62 journalists killed in 2020, just for doing their jobs

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In 2020 alone, according to UN cultural agency UNESCO, which works to protect media workers, 62 journalists were killed just for doing their jobs. Between 2006 and 2020, over 1,200 professionals lost their lives the same way. In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished. 

This year, because of statistics like these, the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists is highlighting the important role of prosecutorial services, not only in bringing killers to justice, but also prosecuting threats of violence. 

In a message marking the day, marked on Tuesday, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, noted that many journalists had lost their lives while covering conflict, but the number of media workers killed outside conflict zones, has risen in recent years. 

“In many countries, simply investigating corruption, trafficking, human rights violations or environmental issues puts journalists’ lives at risk”, the UN Chief said.  

Countless threats 

For Mr. Guterres, “crimes against journalists have an enormous impact on society as a whole, because they prevent people from making informed decisions.” Journalists face countless other threats, ranging from kidnapping, torture and arbitrary detention, to disinformation campaigns and harassment, particularly in the digital sphere.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic, and the shadow pandemic of misinformation, has demonstrated that access to facts and science is literally a matter of life and death”, he said. “When access to information is threatened, it sends a disturbing message that undermines democracy and the rule of law.” 

Mr. Guterres also noted that women journalists are at particular risk.  

According to UNESCO’s recent paper, The Chilling: Global trends in online violence against women journalists, 73 percent of the women journalists surveyed, said they had been threatened, intimidated and insulted online in connection with their work.   

The Secretary-General urged Member States to stand in solidarity with journalists around the world, showing the political will needed to investigate and prosecute these crimes.  

Work in progress 

The Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, also marked the day with a message, saying that, for too many journalists, “telling the truth comes at a price.” 

According to her, “when attacks against journalists go unpunished, the legal   system and safety frameworks have failed everyone.” 

“States thus have an obligation to protect journalists and to ensure that the perpetrators of crimes against them are punished. Judges and prosecutors in particular, have an important role to play in promoting swift and effective criminal proceedings”, she said. 

In recent years, UNESCO has trained nearly 23,000 judicial officials, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers. The training covered international standards related to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, and has placed a particular focus on issues of impunity. 

This year, the agency’s #EndImpunity campaign is highlighting some of the specific risks which journalists face, in their quest to uncover the truth.  

“Only by allowing the truth to be spoken can we advance peace, justice and sustainable development in our societies”, Mrs. Azoulay concluded.  

Commemorations in 2021 will also pave the way for the 10-year anniversary of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, to be marked in 2022. 

Threats to women journalists 

To mark the day, the Permanent Missions of France, Greece and Lithuania and the Group of Friends for the Protection of Journalists, organized an event, at the UN headquarters, to debate the issue of hate-speech and the safety of women journalists. 

In a video message for the event, the President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, asked Member States to acknowledge that too often women journalists are disproportionately impacted.  

Mr. Shahid argued that “much of this is enacted by misogynists who want to make journalism unsafe for women.” 

“We have a collective obligation to stand up against this. Let us do our utmost to ensure that journalism remains safe for women, and bring an end to the harassment, bullying and threats that target their gender”, he added. 

New digital threats  

A group of UN experts on human rights also issued a statement, saying that “threats to the safety of journalists, far from abating, have taken new forms in the digital age, especially for women journalists.” 

According to them, the failure to investigate and address attacks online has real-life consequences for women journalists, affecting their mental and physical health. 

In extreme cases, online threats can escalate to physical violence and even murder, as the killing of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia showed. 

The group reiterated the call for a standing investigatory mechanism to be set up by the United Nations, drawing on independent international experts, including from the Special Procedures and the Treaty Bodies.  

In an increasingly digitalized world, they also asked Member States to ensure that all journalists are free to carry out their vital work free from threats, intimidation or any form of reprisal online or offline. 

The statement was issued by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, the rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Morris Tidball-Binz, and the rapporteur highlighting violence against women, Reem Alsalem. 

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Human Rights

Russian mining giant builds new settlement for indigenous peoples

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The FPIC procedure, first used in Russia by the Norilsk Nickel mining company, has entered a new stage. A second round of consultations with residents of the Arctic workers’ village of Tukhard (in the Taimyr Dolgano-Nenets District of the Krasnoyarsk Territory) took place. The company reported in a press release.

In October 2021, it was reported that FPIC procedure was started.

At the gathering of residents in the framework of the second round, the issues of consent of the residents of the village to the procedure for obtaining FPIC, as well as the formation of a body for making collective decisions of the residents of Tukhard (Council of Representatives) were brought up. The gathering was attended by 78 residents of the village and tundra reindeer herders.

Tukhard was established as a temporary residence for shift workers producing gas in the area in 1970th, and the development of the village did not provide for the creation of any infrastructure. Due to the lack of possible infrastructure development, taking care of the quality of life, safety and health, the company operating in this region – Norilsk Nickel, offered residents the opportunity to choose a better option for life.

Independent international experts invited by the organizer of the procedure, the Interregional Public Organization for the Protection of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples “KMNSOYUZ”, took part in the meetings with residents. Among them are Alexey Tsykarev, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Corporate Advisor to the World Bank on Indigenous Issues, author of the current World Bank policies on indigenous peoples’ rights Navin K. Rai, lawyers in the field of protecting the rights of indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation Mikhail Todyshev and Antonina Gorbunova. The procedure was advised by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Professor James Anaya and other experts.

Dr. Navin Rai, who is visiting the Taimyr Peninsula as an Independent Expert for drafting the Indigenous Peoples Policy, noted that “the indigenous peoples of Tukhard, including those families who practice reindeer herding in the tundra, are currently negotiating with the Norilsk Nickel Company the specific parameters for the proposed physical relocation.” He underlined that “the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) requires that these indigenous peoples have the right to say “no.” However, the result of the negotiations may result in an outcome that is acceptable to both the indigenous peoples and the Company.”

During the gathering, a Council of representatives of the inhabitants of the village of Tukhard was formed, consisting of 7 people. It included both those who in the future wish to move to other settlements, and those who wish to continue their life in Tukhard. The Council also includes reindeer herders who live on a permanent basis in the tundra. Taking into account the interests of reindeer herders who are registered in Tukhard but do not have a permanent place of residence in the village is one of the main requirements of international experts.

The next round of FPIC negotiations is expected in the first quarter of 2022.

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Human Rights

Violence against refugee women surged in 2020

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One in five refugee or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence, and the situation continues to worsen globally, the UN refugee agency, (UNHCR), said on Thursday.

On the 30th anniversary of the campaign for 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the UN agency said that there’s been a global surge in domestic violence, child marriages, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse since March.

“A lethal mix of confinement, deepening poverty and economic duress is unleashing a renewed wave of violence against refugee, displaced and stateless women and girls”, UNHCR said in a statement.

Grassroots solutions

To tackle the crisis, the UN agency has called for funding to be scaled up for grassroots projects that focus on prevention and helping victims of gender-based violence.

These include the Myanmar Ethnic Women(’s) Refugee Organization where refugee women have joined forces to overcome abuse, reinforcing their role as strong protectors of their families and communities.

For victim Deborah, who lives in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, violence against women at home was considered a family problem.

“I felt ashamed to share my experience with other people,” she said. “I was afraid they would say it was my fault.”

Through her work with the community-based organization, Deborah met other women suffering in silence, and when she was invited to help devise and lead a project to support refugee women affected by gender-based violence (GBV), she accepted.

COVID-19 link

UNHCR highlighted that the need for such local, refugee-led projects has become even greater during the COVID-19 pandemic, as lockdowns have taken away refugees’ often precarious livelihoods, heightening tensions in households and making it more difficult for international agencies to deliver support services.

UNHCR issued the alert after recording increases in gender-based violence in at least 27 countries.

In the Central African Republic it warned that one gender-based violence incident is recorded every hour.

And in Colombia, similar incidents affecting Venezuelan refugees and migrants have increased by 40 per cent over the first three- quarters of the year, the agency noted.

The financial stress of COVID-19 and a lack of food in households during the pandemic has put women at greater risk from violence at the hands of their partners, UNHCR reported.

This is the case on the Thai-Myanmar border, where refugee women who were already running support services and safe houses for survivors of gender-based violence asked the UN agency for funding, to provide food to families who had lost work owing to the pandemic’s economic impact.  

Reaffirming its own commitment to addressing gender-based violence across its operations, UNHCR launched an institution-wide policy on GBV prevention, risk mitigation and response, in October.

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Human Rights

Spotlight Initiative combats gender-based violence during COVID-19 pandemic

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Young girls campaign to end violence against women and girls in El Salvador. © UNICEF

Despite COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, some 650,000 women and girls were provided with gender-based violence services through a joint UN and European Union (EU) programme working to stamp out what is arguably one of the most prevalent human rights violations. 

This is just one of the achievements detailed in the Spotlight Initiative’s impact report for 2020-21, launched in New York on Friday. 

Rising to the challenge details how the partners rapidly adjusted programmes during the global crisis to address the shadow pandemic of violence against women and girls. 

COVID-19 continues to exacerbate violence against women and girls in a context of sustained and new backlash against women’s rights globally,” said Sima Bahous Executive Director of UN Women, which supports governments in achieving gender equality. 

“Now more than ever we need concentrated action to protect the gains made and to guard against reversals.” 

Grassroots support 

The Spotlight Initiative is the world’s largest targeted effort to end all forms of violence against women and girls. 

In addition to scaling up services during the pandemic, it assisted civil society organizations to swiftly adapt to the changing environment and to strengthen online services, such as telecounselling and hotlines. 

Funds were also shifted to support more local and grassroots organizations, with $146 million allocated to date.   

Targeting men and boys 

Additionally, some 880,000 men and boys were educated on positive masculinity, respectful family relationships, non-violent conflict resolution and parenting. 

Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), reported on some of the activities across the globe.  

“In Malawi, we are working with community organizations and media partners to raise awareness among educators, young people, and especially boys. These efforts are helping to increase reporting and providing girls and women with faster and more effective support,” she said. 

Promoting stronger laws 

Violence against women and girls, which exists in all societies, is often compounded by other humanitarian crises and has only intensified during the pandemic. 

Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), stated that although strong strategies and legal frameworks do not guarantee the end of gender-based violence, “they are essential to making a dent in this global scourge.”  

For example, the Spotlight Initiative has helped 17 Latin American countries to fully incorporate femicide in their penal codes, and to add clauses that severely punish perpetrators. 

“We have also worked with thousands of parliamentarians, for instance through collaborating with UN Women, in setting up a COVID-19 global response gender tracker to try and allow legislators and policy makers to immediately draw, in the midst of the pandemic, on best practices and the ability to actually act on violence against women, and working with well over 1,000 local and grassroots women’s organizations,” he said. 

Taking it forward 

To build on achievements so far, the EU and UN have decided to develop a Spotlight Global Platform which combines a knowledge hub, community of practice and “advocacy instrument” grounded in the practical experience gained through the initiative. 

Olaf Skoog, Ambassador of the EU Delegation, said even though incidences of violence against women and girls worldwide have been devastating, the partnership has yielded impressive results. 

“We always say that if we are to make a better world, it has to start at home. And here at the UN, we are busy on a daily basis trying to resolve the major conflicts of the world.  But part of that has to be that we are very effective fighting the violence in our own societies,” he said. “And no society is free of this plight.”

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