November 4, 2021, 01.11 PM
An image of International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands dated March 3, 2011. Jerry Lampen/REUTERSAn image of International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands dated March 3, 2011.

The United Nations is another unexpected target of this initiative, Christian Mihr concedes. Reporters Without Borders has been calling for the creation of a UN special representative for the safety of journalists for a number of years now. “That, of course, is also a goal, and there are various states that support it. In 2016, the German parliament became the first in the world to support the appointment of this kind of commissioner,” says Mihr. The tribunal is, therefore, he adds, also part of our efforts at persuading the UN of the urgent need for a UN special representative.

“What is missing is a standing instrument to allow investigations to be carried out internationally,” Irene Khan, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression confirmed in her statement at the launch of the tribunal in The Hague. However, she immediately warned that: “Setting up an independent investigatory mechanism may be complicated.” Instead, she proposed a kind of task force of experts as an interim solution. It would be made up of forensic scientists and other specialists who could call upon existing UN institutions.

Colombia as a positive example

As long as the appointment of a UN special representative for the safety of journalists is blocked by the resistance of a number of governments, the supporters of press freedom will have to be content with small victories on a regional level — victories that prove a permanent institution is in a position to remind governments of their responsibilities. The case of Colombian journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima is one very recent example.

In mid-October, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (CIDH) ruled that the Colombian state shared responsibility for the kidnapping, rape, and torture of the journalist in 2000. In addition, the CIDH­ declared that there had been grave omissions in the legal handling of the case. It was a resounding blow for the government of conservative President Ivan Duque. The CIDH belongs to the Organization of American States (OAS) and investigates human rights violations in the region.

The newly created tribunal against the murder of journalists will hold three hearings in the Hague between January and March 2022. The closing addresses will be held on May 3, 2022, to coincide with World Press Freedom Day. For Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) the verdict is already evident: “Governments have demonstrated a lack of political will in terms of resolving these cases and the consequence is that the global flow of information is undermined, that critical journalistic information is thwarted, that badly needed journalists are murdered and the murderers of these journalists are not being brought to justice. Censorship is accomplished through murder.”

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