France will take over the presidency of the UN Security Council on December 1, 2013. As such, the president will be able to issue statements on the council's behalf and set its agenda, which will give it considerable political influence. The French president and government should seize this opportunity for a major initiative aimed at improving protection for journalists and freedom of information.
The murder of two French journalists in Mali on November 2 has been widely condemned by members of the international community, from European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.
After an emergency meeting that President François Hollande held at the Elysée Palace, foreign minister Laurent Fabius said that "a crime against journalists is a double crime (...) a crime against persons (...) and a crime against the freedom to inform and be informed." Guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this freedom is the one that allows us to verify respect for all the other freedoms.
More journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2012 than at any time since Reporters Without Borders first began releasing annual figures for media freedom violations in 1995.
In 2012, no fewer than 88 professional journalists, mostly local reporters in Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, Mexico and elsewhere, were deliberately gunned down for doing investigative reporting or for just doing their job, or were killed in bombings while out reporting. The 50 netizens who were killed for helping to report news and information should be added to the total. At the same time, 183 professional journalists are currently in prison or held hostage worldwide.
These attacks on freedom of information, these terrible acts of intimidation, violate our right to be informed about the often tragic events taking place beyond our borders. It is also a disaster for the population of countries such as Eritrea or Turkmenistan when they become "information black holes."
How can you combat atrocities against civilians or the tragedy of child soldiers, or defend women's rights, if journalists are not free to report the facts, to draw attention to abuses and appeal to the public's conscience? There are countries where the torturers stopped torturing when the media began talking about them. Investigative journalists also expose corruption and shady practices.
Aware that more is at stake than just media professional interests, the UN issued a "plan of action on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity" in February 2013 that had been developed by UNESCO and other UN agencies to promote "the creation of a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide."
The plan aims to promote cooperation among UN agencies, governments, media bodies, journalists' associations and NGOS leading to the adoption of concrete measures, legislation and mechanisms protecting freedom of information.
A draft resolution on the "protection of civilians in armed conflicts" that had been suggested by Reporters Without Borders was submitted to the UN Security Council by French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, with the Greek foreign ministry's support, in December 2006.
Adopted as Resolution 1738, it reminds all parties to an armed conflict -- both states and non-state actors -- of their obligations to respect and protect journalists, media workers and related personnel, to prevent acts of violence against them, to punish such acts of violence, to combat impunity and to protect media equipment and installations.
This resolution is one of the most important documents of its kind for the protection of news providers but, in practice, its implementation and scope have proved insufficient. Reporters Without Borders submitted a written submission to the UN Human Rights Council on September 4, 2013, during its most recent session, calling for the creation of a mechanism for verifying respect for Resolution 1738 in order to encourage states to adopt specific penal provisions to combat impunity.
Reporters Without Borders is proposing the creation of a monitoring group or committee of independent experts, and the extension of Resolution 1738 to cover internal unrest and tension as well as armed conflict situations. Finally, Article 8 of the International Criminal Court's statute needs to be amended so that deliberate attacks on news providers are defined as war crimes.
Of the seven foreign journalists killed in Syria since the start of the uprising in March 2011, four were French. And of the 16 foreign journalists currently held hostage worldwide, four are also French. But as well as defending French citizens, France could take pride in making a significant international contribution to the cause of ensuring that people all over the world can receive the most relevant and pluralist news coverage possible.