Experts want global task force to probe abuses vs journalists

An independent global panel of legal experts on media freedom sought the creation of an International Investigative Task Force to effectively probe abuses against journalists.

The High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom – an independent body convened in 2019 at the request of the United Kingdom and Canada – released on Wednesday, November 25 (Thursday, November 26, Manila time), its 4th advisory report directed to members of the 37-strong Media Freedom Coalition of states.

The report, Advice on Promoting More Effective Investigations into Abuses against Journalists, was authored by panel member Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative.

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, former president of the UK Supreme Court, serves as the panel chair, while international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is the deputy chair.

The report cited two factors for the ongoing failure to conduct investigations, which then embolden attackers: the state's lack of capacity due to ineffective institutions and corruption, and the lack of political will to pursue accountability.

“Rampant impunity has created a chilling effect for media freedom. Despite repeated promises at the international level to tackle impunity, there are still too few mechanisms actually investigating the attacks…. It is time for a ‘Coalition of the Committed’ to lead the way in setting an international investigative task force that can bring perpetrators to justice,” Houry said.

“For too long, impunity for such crimes has been perceived as insurmountable and the international community has only offered empty expressions of condemnation. With the creation of the International Investigative Task Force, states will be held accountable to deliver on their international obligations to protect human rights and uphold the Rule of Law,” said panel member Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, who was part of the small, informal investigative team into the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At least 37 member-states of the Media Freedom Coalition, including the UK and Canada, have signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, which "commits like-minded countries to working together on identifying and acting on violations and abuses against members of the press."  

Three-pronged strategy

The report recommended the following strategies to strengthen investigations into attacks against journalists:

1. Creating an international Investigative Task Force that can quickly deploy international experts to support national as well as United Nations investigators

If the panel would have it their way, they would want a new permanent United Nations investigative body. However, they recognized the lack of political support for that.

Instead, they recommended that an organization “with global reach, independence, and the right convening power” – such as the International Bar Association, which also serves as the panel's acting secretariat – could host the task force. 

Funding would come from member-states of the Media Freedom Coalition.

While this task force would not have a UN mandate, the report said it would present some key strengths:

  • It will be less susceptible to current UN blockages and can be set up faster and with fewer compromises.
  • Its creation by members of the Media Freedom Coalition would "provide political credibility and a deeper pool of talent than any unilateral or bilateral initiative."
  • It will complement existing mechanisms, such as existing UN, regional and national institutions and investigations 

2. Supporting non-governmental organizations that work to collect evidence

The report urged states to strengthen NGOs’ capacity to transfer evidence to UN mechanisms and courts with jurisdiction.

3. Strengthening the UN’s capacity to hold the worst violators of journalists’ rights politically accountable by:

  • Creating the role of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for the Safety of Journalists to give political weight to UN efforts to follow up on investigations into attacks on journalists
  • Creating a list of countries or armed groups that are the worst perpetrators of attacks on journalists.  They could face targeted sanctions, among others.

The panel, in its two earlier advisory reports, also recommended stronger consular assistance and protection for detained foreign journalists, as well as the creation of an emergency visa for journalists at risk and their families. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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