Journalists Warn of Human Rights Agenda “Hijack” After United Nations Suspends NGO

The year-long suspension of a press freedom group from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights provides “worrying evidence of a major crisis for press freedom at world level,” said the International Federation of Journalists today.

“It looks increasingly as though the UN human rights agenda is being hijacked by governments dedicated to censorship and intolerance of dissent,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

The IFJ has written to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello about the suspension of the Paris-based group Reporters Sans Frontiers which staged a protest during a meeting of the commission in March to protest over the decision to let Libya chair the commission.

The group’s consultative status with the commission was suspended on July 24 for one year on a split vote after a request by Libya and Cuba.

“We may not agree with the style of protest,” said White, “but this suspension is wholly unjustified. The fact that behind it are regimes with an appalling record on human rights and much to hide on free expression severely damages the credibility of the United Nations human rights commission.”

Among the 27 country’s voting in favour were China, Iran, Pakistan, Libya, Cuba and Zimbabwe, countries where journalists have been jailed, censored or violently attacked in recent years. “It is a tragic sign of the times that freedom to dissent which many of these countries have outlawed at national level, is now being curtailed on a global level,” said White.

The IFJ has also complained to Secretary General Annan that the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the body that took this decision, never invited the French group to explain its action. “This denial of natural justice adds to the overwhelming sense that this a decision out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence and is motivated by spite from some of the countries involved.”

The IFJ says that the UN must move immediately to counter the view that its human rights policies and actions are being directed by a core group of countries that are resentful of international reports by press freedom defenders who highlight their abuse of human rights.

“If human rights policy has any future it must be in the hands of governments with a credible record that are committed to democracy and principles of free expression,” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries