Cotler, global lawyers call for charter on media protection during COVID-19 backslide

Irwin Cotler

OTTAWA — A coalition of international lawyers, led by a former Canadian attorney general, is calling for a new global charter to protect the rights of imprisoned journalists in an increasingly hostile world.

Irwin Cotler, the former Liberal justice minister and international human rights lawyer, made the recommendation in a report he authored for a coalition of independent international legal experts.

The report was released Monday at an international conference on media freedom co-hosted by Canada and Botswana.

The new charter would upgrade legal obligations on a country that arbitrarily imprisons a journalist and impose new legal duties on the home country of a journalist who has been rounded up.

Cotler says the new measures are needed because the current international laws designed to protect the diplomatic access to people imprisoned in foreign countries are not adequate.

“We meet today on the occasion not only of a global COVID pandemic, but a global political pandemic, characterized by a resurgent global authoritarianism, the backsliding of democracies and global assaults on media freedom, where journalists are increasingly under threat and under assault,” Cotler told the video conference.

“Although some states already do this to some extent, the system is haphazard and weak,” said Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer who has represented imprisoned journalists

Cotler and Clooney say the COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened authoritarian governments and created new risks to journalists working internationally.

“So the report proposes a new charter of rights for detained journalists and a new code of conduct for governments to be overseen by a newly appointed international commissioner who would be tasked with monitoring states compliance,” said Clooney.

Clooney and Cotler are the leading figures on a panel created last year by the Canadian and British governments to find ways to increase protection to journalists and prevent abuses of media freedom.