A group of international lawyers and media freedom experts have published a report calling on democratic regimes to implement targeted sanctions to help protect the rights of journalists and freedom of the press.
“Report on the Use of Targeted Sanctions to Protect Journalists,” was published last week by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights in response to what the report describes as a decade-long decline in media freedom through systemic censorship and attacks on journalists ranging from harassment, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings.
“This report represents an opportunity to lead with a new paradigm,” said lead author Amal Clooney. “Where human rights are under attack, targeted sanctions will be a counterattack.”
In addition to Clooney, other members of the Independent High-Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom who prepared this report include former UK Supreme Court Chief Justice Lord David Neuberger and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Founding Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre, Professor Irwin Cotler.
Targeted sanctions are intended to be directed at individuals, companies and organizations, or restrict trade with key commodities. The sanctions can be targeted in specific ways, including financial, travel, diplomatic or cultural restrictions.
In the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, variations of legislation, often referred to as “Magnitsky '' laws, exist and allow for such sanctions. The legislation is named as such in reference to Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who was framed, arrested, tortured and eventually murdered for exposing financial crimes.
“Many governments are refusing to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account, and in many places the governments are the perpetrators,” the 80-page report explains. “International sanctions targeting individuals responsible for the abuses can highlight their misconduct, limit their impact and act as a deterrent to future misdeeds.”
According to the report. In the last two years, more than 130 journalists and media workers have been killed. In 2019 alone, more than 250 journalists around the world were in prison for their work, including an increasing number for allegedly spreading fake news.
Despite these growing numbers, the report says that states have been slow to enact human rights-based sanctions or, if they have, to use them in response to the repression of journalists.
"Although 173 states have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, guaranteeing the rights of freedom of expression, and more recently over 30 states have signed the Global Pledge on Media Freedom, there is clearly a long way to go before the commitments that have been made on paper translate into tangible action,” the report says, recommending that as a next step to the pledge, those governments adopt targeted sanctions legislation.
The report recommends that targeted sanctions laws be broad enough to encompass the many ways in which media freedom is being abused, including, for example, ensuring that sanctions can be applied to non-state actors - such as companies - and to secondary participants - such as those complicit in the abuses.
“Sanctioning the architects of repression is a crucial expression of solidarity towards their victims, and the most effective means of ending the culture of impunity that underpins their criminality,” said Cotler, who introduced Canada's first Magnitsky Bill in Canadian Parliament. Under his chairmanship, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre successfully spearheaded the legislation's unanimous passage in 2017.
Freedom House in its most recent 2017 "Freedom of the Press" report ranked Israeli media as "free," but did rank the environment in which press operate as deteriorating.
"Israel hosts a lively, pluralistic media environment in which press freedom is generally respected," Freedom House described. "However, due to ongoing conflicts with Palestinian groups and neighboring countries, media outlets are subject to military censorship and gag orders, and journalists often face travel restrictions. Economic pressures have undermined the sustainability of key outlets in recent years, threatening long-term media pluralism."
The Raoul Wallenberg Centre report explains that “States that believe in media freedom should introduce laws and policies that will help protect journalists in the real world by raising the cost of abusive conduct. A consistent use of targeted sanctions when journalists are killed and arbitrarily imprisoned would help raise international awareness and shift the default from impunity to accountability.
“There is an important opportunity for states to lead with a new paradigm: that when the media is attacked, targeted sanctions will be the counter-attack. Governments that truly wish to protect journalists should seize it,” the report concludes.