Committee To Protect Journalists – An Informative and Shocking Panel Discussion

On the 23rd day of Russia’s war on Ukraine, our wonderful grantee, the Committee to Protect Journalists, held a panel titled “Human Rights Violations and the Dangers Facing Journalists in Ukraine”. Experts from both the CPJ and Human Rights Watch were on hand to explain the current situation and to field questions from other reporters about the war, ongoing human rights violations, disinformation and the dangers facing journalists on the frontlines of history. The panel discussion was simultaneously translated into Ukrainian and Russian.

Moderated by the CPJ’s Gypsy Guillen Kaiser, the panel was enlightening, and the information collected by the organizations was horrifying, to say the least. How people get information and exercise their rights during war is often a matter of life and death. In addition, access to credible, reliable information is integral to survival and decision making, and any attack directed towards journalists and their work — be it direct violence or impeding the public’s ability to access it — is an attack on the public itself.

The experts on the panel were Rachel Denber, the deputy director of Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, Frederike Kaltheuner, director of technology and human rights at Human Rights Watch, Gunoza Said, Europe and Central Asia program coordinator at the CPJ, and Colin Pereira, the journalist safety specialist at the CPJ.

They were joined by CPJ’s emergencies director Lucy Westcott, United Nations Director at Human Rights Watch, Luis Charbonneau and executive director of the ACOS Alliance, which is a coalition of 129 news organizations, freelance journalist associations and press freedom groups, Elisabet Cantenys.

This is the shocking takeaway: civilian deaths that are in the thousands so far, three million refugees and attacks on combat zone reporters that have left at least four dead, including reporter and documentary filmmaker Brent Renaud and two local journalists as well as a Danish writer for Extrabladet. At least another ten have been wounded like a Swiss and a Czech reporter who traveled in vehicles clearly marked as press. At least another four have been captured and jailed. And all this despite the fact that “Human Rights Watch has been on the ground from the very beginning in Ukraine documenting the impact of the war on civilians. We have a team there that has been in Kyiv and in other locations documenting the conduct of the war”, as Rachel Denber said: “[We] have documented indiscriminate bombing and shelling in numerous cities, in Kharkiv, the second-largest city, in Kyiv, in Kharkiv, Mariupol, Irpin, Mykolaiv, and other places. Amnesty International has done extremely important documentation in other cities as well.”

Frederike Kaltheuner explained how important it is not to overlook the role tech and other companies play in this war: “We’ve been monitoring very closely and analyzing how companies such as Meta, Google, TikTok, Twitter, and Telegram have responded to the war, such as by tackling disinformation, content moderation decisions, geo-blocking as well as removing and demoting content. And all of this matters because many of the social media’s actions during the war in Ukraine, such as taking down accounts, geo-blocking, or removing or demoting content have implications for freedom of expression. We think that social media and messaging companies need to do much more to meet their human rights obligations and not just in Ukraine, but also in the many other crises and conflicts around the world.” She added: “Companies have chronically underinvested in addressing the human rights issues in many of the countries where people rely on their products and services,” and clarified that many of these problems stem from the fact that the sanctions imposed by the US and Europe “are too broad and sometimes unclear.”

Gunoza Said, who monitors civilian casualties and especially attacks on war reporters, says that most Ukrainian journalists remain in the country, relocated to Western Ukraine, “but many media outlets have also fled. Many Ukrainians cannot leave. It was announced early on in the war, and on March 3rd the Parliament approved the presidential decree on general mobilization. And journalists are not exempt from mobilization, and we at CPJ believe that it’s important that Ukraine should exempt male journalists from compulsory military service. They should be able to continue reporting on the war.” Said Luis Charbonnet, Human Rights Watch’s UN envoy: “The important thing is that the General Assembly has spoken, which is, in a way, the world’s parliament. They’re called for the protection of civilians, and as everyone’s made clear today, that includes journalists reporting on the conflict. And so, the international community has spoken loudly and clearly, and I hope that Russia and Ukraine since they’re a party to the conflict will heed those words that they got from the General Assembly and that the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry will be up and running quickly and can gather and preserve evidence that will be used for prosecutions.”

With their work cut out for them, Colin Pereira explained what his organization does to help: “This is a conventional war with urban warfare, the likes of which we probably haven’t seen since the Second World War. So, we are educating journalists to what that actually means on a tactical battle basis, and what they’re seeing when the Russians perform certain movements and certain actions, which sometimes are perceived to be illogical, but actually, if you understand Russian military doctrine, make perfect sense.” Added Rachel Denber: “The Russian journalists face persecution; their families face persecution. The more you can boost their work and recognize their work, I think the better chance we have that people in Russia will get accurate information.”

Pereira warns of being too shortsighted when it comes to this war: It’s got to be remembered that 20% of the calorie intake of Egypt, which is the most populous nation in the Middle East, is based on Russian and Ukrainian grain. If you think about the impact of that, the Arab Spring was actually started by the price of bread. So, if this conflict keeps running the way it is, there will be protests and conflict in other parts of the world, which will affect journalists all around the region and far afield, and we are prepping them for that impact day because if we wait for it to happen, it’ll be too late.”

For specific safety information, go to either or both their websites: www.cpj.org and  https://www.hrw.org/#

Watch the entire panel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPN2yBkORTI