Why is a U.N. diplomat comparing Somali journalists to Rwandan war criminals?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Feb. 17 2009 11:20 AM

They Kill Journalists, Don't They?

Why is a U.N. diplomat comparing Somali journalists to Rwandan war criminals?

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But the slanderous comparison of Somali reporters to Rwandan war criminals was not the last of the U.N. representative's outrages.

Even more un-U.N.-ish was Ould-Abdallah's call to ban all media reports: "[T]he time has come for [a] one-month truce on reporting till there is double-, triple-checking, because Somalia is exceptional. We have to have exceptional checking of the news," he said.         

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Imposing a gag order is contrary to Article 19 of the Declaration of Human Rights, which covers freedom of expression. The International Federation of Journalists called this intended news blackout "ill-thought out and counterproductive." Somalia's warring factions already try to muzzle the local media—this is amply documented by media watchdogs. When a U.N. diplomat does the same thing, the intention is to silence the messenger.

Moreover, given the lack of security in Somalia, demanding that facts be triple-checked is to set unrealistic standards and—what is worse—could be deadly.

In the humanitarian community—to which I migrated from the world of pure journalism—our operating space is also shrinking due to security concerns, and Somalia is among the most dangerous places in the world. In 2008, two dozen aid workers were reported killed in Somalia, and this year, two employees of the World Food Program were shot dead, while four employees of Action Against Hunger and two European Commission-contracted pilots are currently being held hostage along with around 20 other humanitarian workers.

Journalists and aid workers are part of Somalia's civil society. As such, they often receive death threats and are accused of interference and bias by all sides of the conflict. These threats and accusations should not be left to stand, even—indeed, especially—if they come from a U.N. diplomat.

Anna Husarska is senior policy adviser at the International Rescue Committee.