Briefing Paper

Safer together?

Considerations for cooperation to address safety in the media support, humanitarian and human rights sectors

This briefing paper is the preliminary output of research undertaken in an ef­fort to inform or inspire action among the media support, human rights and humanitarian sectors to address press­ing safety and protection issues. The paper seeks not only to identify com­monalities between these sectors, but to identify possible areas for future collaboration and cooperation to ad­dress issues of safety and impunity.

Every year, hundreds of human rights defenders (HRDs), humanitar­ian workers (HAWs) and journalists and media workers (JMWs) are killed around the world – simply for doing their job. Hundreds more are threat­ened, sexually harassed, kidnapped, arrested, imprisoned or otherwise tar­geted simply because of the work they do – for their commitment to human rights, fundamental freedoms, provid­ing information to their communities or providing life-saving aid and assis­tance to vulnerable communities.

Despite the different roles of these sectors, there are commonali­ties. The risks that JMWs, HAWs and HRDs face are usually the same: in­timidation, threats, prison, harassment, torture, injury and death. Women face additional threats of rape and physical violence and threats to their families with many of these threats taking place online. It is not only individuals that are targeted, but the offices of human rights organisations and media outlets are also often targeted during attacks in which files are stolen and material de­stroyed thereby depriving them of their work tools.

All three sectors often oper­ate in difficult contexts such as con­flicts and natural disasters. JMWs and HRDs are also caught in the crosshairs of these conflicts with more and more local JMWs and HRDs subject to vi­olence and protection issues precisely because of these complexities. These complexities also provide a challenge for journalists and HRDs reporting on such conflicts. Despite these common­alities, there has been little cooperation, coordination or other efforts, however, to ensure the safety of workers in these three sectors or to share best practices and lessons learned.

There are international and na­tional legal frameworks for all three sectors, though primarily for HRDS and JMWs. These frameworks include the UN Charter, international humani­tarian law, international human rights law, special procedures as well as sec­tor specific frameworks such as the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Meanwhile, the Declaration to Protect Human Rights Defenders “recognizes the importance of legal and administra­tive frameworks in the creation of safe and enabling environments for human rights defenders.

There is also an emerging body of laws, the international disas­ter response laws, rules and principles (IDRL), which targets states and hu­manitarian agencies operating in disas­ter areas not subject to IHL.

Regional human rights con­ventions or charters have been adopt­ed by the Organization of American States (OAS), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Inter-American Commis­sion on Human Rights (IACHR), OSCE, the Commonwealth and the African Union. While all include free­dom of expression, not all address hu­man rights defenders, humanitarians or safety and protection issues. National human rights institutions also play an important role in ensuring the safety of those who operate in these sectors while other non-state affiliated institu­tions also play a similar role.

There are a number of thematic areas that appear ripe for coordination of these sectors including information pollution, surveillance and data and privacy issues and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These can be addressed in a variety of man­ners and a collaborative framework is recommended that includes dialogue and peer exchange, multi-stakeholder initiatives, addressing gender-based violence, emergency assistance and research.

Clearly, increasingly challeng­ing national contexts mean that cooperation and solidarity among nation­al, regional and international actors becomes even more important to re­inforce actions to enable human rights and democratic space and ensure the safety of humanitarians, journalists and human rights defenders.