GENEVA, FEBRUARY 25 – Back in Geneva where he was for ten years the High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres joined the Association of United Nations Correspondents, ACANU, to mark its 70th anniversary: “I congratulate you on reaching this milestone as an organization, and I wish you all the best for your future success”.
Guterres saw “familiar faces” of journalists who covered humanitarian crises and refugee issues while he was working in Geneva: “Many appalling humanitarian crises and issues would never gain international attention without your work”, he said recalling “discussing the refugee situation in Europe with some of you long before it reached its climax. I thank you for your consistent interest and engagement, and for reporting the facts, even when those facts may have made some people uncomfortable”.
Some seventy years ago, most of the members of ACANU came from the countries of the Global North, and most were men. The Cold War was in full swing. Around the world, democracies were the exception rather than the norm. There were very few countries in which people were allowed to express themselves freely. “Seventy years on, the situation here at the Association of Correspondents, at the United Nations more generally, and indeed around the world, is fortunately very different. ACANU itself is much more diverse. Decolonization, the end of the Cold War and other developments have transformed the United Nations and the world we live in. We’ve come a long way towards realizing freedom of expression, and other fundamental freedoms. The right to access to information is entrenched in law in over a hundred countries”, said the Secretary General pointing out that, however, despite these advances, civic space in recent years has been shrinking worldwide at an alarming rate.
In just over a decade, more than a thousand journalists have been killed while carrying out their indispensable work. And nine out of ten cases are unresolved, with no one held accountable. Last year alone, UNESCO reports that at least 99 journalists were killed. Many thousands more have been attacked, harassed, detained or imprisoned on spurious charges, without due process.
“This is outrageous. This should not become the new normal. When journalists are targeted, societies as a whole pay a price. And I am deeply troubled by the growing number of attacks and the culture of impunity”, said Guterres, adding that “no democracy is complete without press freedom. Nor can any society be fair and impartial without journalists who investigate wrongdoing and speak truth to the power”. Journalism and the media – in his view – are essential to peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights for all – and to the work of the United Nations. (@OnuItalia)