First steps taken to adopt a United Nations Plan of Action to improve safety of journalists and combat impunity

Representatives of United Nations agencies, programmes and funds meeting at UNESCO in Paris have drafted an Action Plan to improve the safety of journalists and combat impunity of crimes against them.

More than 500 professionals have been killed in the course of their duties over the past decade. Many more have been assaulted, abducted, sexually violated, intimidated, harassed, arrested or illegally detained. The vast majority of these crimes did not concern international war correspondents but journalists working in their home countries, often in times of peace, and covering local stories. The instigators for the most part, remain unpunished.

UNESCO, as the UN agency mandated to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image”, organized the September 13 and 14 meeting with the aim of establishing a coordinated, UN system-wide approach to preventing and combatting these crimes.

The measures in the Draft Plan prepared by participants include the establishment of a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues connected to the safety of journalists and impunity. This will involve monitoring of progress at both national and international levels.

Safety and impunity are also to be incorporated into UN contributions to national strategies, notably development assistance programmes and the possible inclusion of media stakeholders in some of the preparatory processes of the UN’s development projects.

The draft also foresees the extension of work already conducted by UNESCO to prevent crimes against media workers. This notably includes assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and by supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles, especially the 1997 UNESCO General Conference Resolution concerning violence against journalists. This stipulates that there should be no statute of limitations on crimes against freedom of expression.

To further reinforce prevention, awareness raising campaigns will also be conducted with Member States, civil society, non - governmental organizations and concerned bodies about issues of freedom of expression, journalists’ safety and the danger of impunity to democracy.

The Draft Plan of Action will be presented to UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) at its next session in March 2012 and will then be submitted to the bodies in charge of UN-wide coordination.      

Participants at the Paris meeting, presided by Raghu Menon, Chairperson of the IPDC, included: UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova; Kiyo Akasaka, UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information; Frank la Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Dunja Mijatovic, Representative on Freedom of the Media for at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ; Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organization of American States (OAS) and Faith Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to information in Africa for the African Union Commission. Representatives of leading freedom of expression and press freedom organizations also attended.

The meeting was endorsed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, who addressed the participants at the start of the session.

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