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The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) passed a groundbreaking resolution on 29 September concerning the safety of journalists, which contained a number of firsts. This resolution marks the first time the Council recognised that encryption and anonymity tools are vital for the work of journalists, and called upon states not to interfere with the use of such technologies. This is also the first time it elaborated on the specific threats faced by women journalists, both online and offline, as well as the first time the Council urged all states to release arbitrarily detained journalists.

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) welcomes the adoption of the safety of journalists resolution, in particular its unequivocal condemnation of the specific attacks on women journalists in their work, which according to the resolution, includes “sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence, intimidation and harassment, online and offline.” We commend the Council for becoming the first UN body to call on states to not interfere with the use of encryption and anonymity tools. These tools are of course critical to journalists, but also anyone who may be targeted for what they say and do online, for example, human rights defenders and individuals, survivors of technology-related violence against women, and those who face risks based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, religious beliefs, and political views.

The disproportionate threats faced by women journalists are well documented. Whether it is a matter of sexual violence against women journalists in conflict zones, or online trolls spewing death threats, the intention is the same – to intimidate, harass and ultimately silence. Attacks on women journalists go beyond what is reported or is visible to the eye. While encryption can provide some protection from abuse, other options are self-censorship and withdrawing from online spaces.

The resolution, which passed by consensus with 87 co-sponsors, also:

• Recognises the particular risks that journalists face in the digital age, including becoming targets of unlawful or arbitrary surveillance and/or interception of communications, which violates their rights to privacy and to freedom of expression.
• Underlines the importance of taking a gender-sensitive approach when considering measures to address the safety of journalists.
• Calls on states to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, including through secure communications.
• Requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report analysing the effectiveness of existing journalist safety mechanisms, including prevention, protection, monitoring and complaint mechanisms.

“We hope this resolution results in concrete action to reverse the trend of intimidating and silencing of journalists, including by restricting the use of encryption and anonymity tools, and other forms of harassment,” said APC’s Global Policy Lead Deborah Brown. “Journalists, human rights defenders, and other individuals at risk rely on these vital tools to exercise their human rights online and offline,” she added.

APC is a member-driven organisation with over 70 members from 36 countries across the world, mostly from developing countries. Our mission is to empower and support organisations, social movements and individuals in and through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to build strategic communities and initiatives for the purpose of making meaningful contributions to equitable human development, social justice, participatory political processes, environmental sustainability and enjoyment of human rights.