HRNJ-Uganda Welcomes Recommendations from UNESCO for UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity
On July 6, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) released its draft recommendations for strengthening mechanisms to protect the safety and rights of journalists and end impunity across the world. The UNESCO recommendations urge action by the UN and Members States to monitor and report violations against journalists in alignment with Goal 16.10 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which calls for the protection of public access to information and fundamental freedoms.
Journalism has never been a safe or easy profession, and journalists have faced increasing dangers and challenges in recent years. According to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokov, a journalist has been murdered every four days for the last decade across the world, with 90% of perpetrators going unpunished. In Uganda, violations against journalists have occurred once every 2.7 days over the last four years, according to the findings of HRNJ-Uganda as documented in the 2016 Press Freedom Index Report. Journalists continue to be subjected to beatings, destruction of equipment, denial of access to news scenes, and intense interrogations by Ugandan police officers, who in turn have not had to answer to justice in many instances.
Yet the freedom of expression and access to information is a fundamental human right, and journalists must be allowed to safely perform their jobs if all people are to enjoy these basic human rights. In the release of their recommendations, UNESCO has identified the challenge of translating the UN Plan of Action into national policies to protect journalists that will be implemented and enforced.
Particularly with the assistance of Member States, the Recommendations lay a roadmap toward creating a safe environment for journalists across the globe. Recommendation 1.1 calls for UNESCO, OHCHR, and the UN Secretary-General to ensure increased participation and coordination at the national level by international actors to end impunity. This includes raising awareness of existing mechanisms (1.4), advancing implementation through existing institutional framework (1.6), and earmarking more financial resources for journalist safety measures through the UN (1.8). The recommendations also call for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights to increase and improve monitoring and reporting violations against journalists (1.11), and to provide technical assistance to Member States to continue to address issues of journalist safety and impunity at the national level (1.12). With regards to Member States, the recommendations call for cooperation, support and accountability through judicious follow-ups to instances of violations against journalists (2.26 and 2.27), acknowledgement of the states’ responsibility to ensure the safety of journalists (2.28), integration of safety measures into national development frameworks (2.29), and respect for the status of journalists as civilians entailing all protections of international humanitarian law as noted in Article 4A(4) of the Third Geneva Convention (2.35).
Of note, HRNJ-Uganda is pleased that Recommendation 2.23 calls for a possible Declaration of Principles on the safety of journalists and media workers that would acknowledge the important role journalists play in strengthening rule of law while calling for a strengthened international legal framework to protect the safety of journalists. According to UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye, “Our final benchmark is the epidemic of attacks against journalists decreasing and what we are doing to make that happen.”
HRNJ-Uganda recognizes this as an opportunity for the government of the Republic of Uganda to put actions to words and to stand with the international community in recognizing the value of journalists in a democratic society, implementing national safety mechanisms to protect journalists, and ending impunity. The success of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development lies with its Member States, beginning with Uganda. HRNJ-Uganda also believes UNESCO should include specific recommendations to address the welfare of journalists, including issues of fair pay, as this has a direct effect on the professionalism and attendant safety of media practitioners.
“HRNJ-Uganda is pleased with the recommendations to the UN released by UNESCO. Sadly, you need to look no further than Uganda to recognize the epidemic of violence, mistreatment and impunity that affects the media fraternity around the world. The freedom of expression and access to information is a fundamental human right, and journalists must be able to safely practice their profession for this right to be realized. My hope is that the government of Uganda and other bodies to whom these beautiful recommendations are made heed these recommendations and for Uganda to become a leader in press freedom instead of press violations,” said Robert Ssempala, National Coordinator for HRNJ-Uganda.
The recommendations can be read in full here: Click
UNESCO is accepting public comment on the recommendations through July 21 on their website here: Click