Major conference aims to lead the fight against impunity of those who mistreat journalists
City University London hosted last week a major international working conference aimed at ending the impunity of those who murder, assault or threaten journalists around the world, and at developing new global initiatives intended to protect journalists from violence.
The event was organised by the directors of the Initiative on Impunity and the Rule of Law, a joint project between the University's Centre for Law, Justice & Journalism (CLJJ) and the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield.
Entitled Safety and Protection for Journalists: A Responsibility for the World, the conference was opened by Janis Karklins, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information. Among those leading discussions were Roland Bless, Director of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; Gavin Simpson, from the Office of the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights; and Susan Hyland, Director of Human Rights at the UK Foreign Office.
The event also marked the launch of a topical report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which revealed 13 countries around the world with five or more unsolved cases of murdered journalists committed during the past decade. In those countries alone, 251 journalists were killed with impunity in that period.
The conference, which was also sponsored by the Swedish National Commission for UNESCO, Norwegian Pen and the Open Society Foundation, ended with a session dedicated to establishing effective measures to improve the protection for journalists and improve compliance around the world in advance of UN inter-agency talks in September.
The Impunity Initiative is a joint venture between CLJJ and CFOM, the organizers of which are City's Professor Lorna Woods (Associate Dean for Research at The City Law School), Professor Howard Tumber (Director of Research, Department of Journalism), Dr Carmen Draghici (The City Law School), Sheffield's Professor Jackie Harrison (Chair of CFOM, Department of Journalism Studies) and William Horsley (International Director of CFOM).
The initiative has already received the backing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a long-time advocate for the worldwide protection of journalists' rights. In a special message to the conference he said: "The right of journalists to report freely is of vital importance to people in all parts of the world, and those who sue violence, assassination or detention to try and intimidate journalists must be held accountable for their actions."
Archbishop Tutu added: "The high toll of deaths and injuries among media workers around the world in recent years is outrageous and unacceptable. I appeal to governments everywhere to ensure that law enforcement and judicial authorities protect journalists' rights and take action to end impunity for such crimes."
The conference marks the end of the first stage of the project, which is ultimately intended to lead to concrete action by NGOs, governments and other international bodies to end impunity for those responsible for killing, threatening or suppressing the work of journalists.
Professor Lorna Woods said: "Powerful evidence suggests that a disturbing climate of impunity in respect of deliberate and widespread violence against journalists, as well as the suppression of free opinion and expression, has taken root in recent years in several parts of Europe and further afield. This conference is a vital opportunity to establish a system that will help put an end to this cycle and improve conditions for journalists working in testing regions across the world."
Professor Jackie Harrison added: "Journalists play a vital role in providing reliable information on matters of public interest and their work can expose them to special risks of physical violence and arbitrary prosecution. It is important that we improve measures to protect their freedom to report."
The main materials arising from the London meeting are available on the Conference website at: <a target=_blank href="http://www.cfom.org.uk">www.cfom.org.uk</a>.
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