Senegalese Security Forces Trained on Freedom of Expression, the Safety of Journalists, and defenders of women’s rights
The UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa (Sahel) in Dakar, in partnership with the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, The United Nations Information Center, Article 19 West Africa, and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, organized two training sessions of Senegalese Security Forces on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, and defenders of women’s rights.
The objective of the two three day trainings, which occurred in Dakar from 20-25 March 2017, was to improve capacities of security forces to guarantee freedom of expression and the safety of journalists and facilitate dialogue and cooperation between security forces, media professionals, and defenders of women’s rights. The training occurred in the framework of the implementation by OHCHR and UNESCO of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, endorsed by the United Nations Chief Executive Board on April 12 2012 and welcomed by the UN General Assembly Resolution (A/RES/68/163) in 2013. “The reinforcement of the safety of journalists ensures that access to information is available for civil society which is, in the long term, crucial for the consolidation of peace, democracy, and sustainable development” underlined Andrea Ori, Representative of the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In the framework of this workshop, the Declaration of Carthage, adopted during the UNESCO Conference for World Press Freedom Day in Tunisia in May 2012, played a particular role. The Declaration underlines the necessity to reinforce freedom of the press and improve the safety of journalists. It calls on all stakeholders to create an environment conducive to freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, working both on and offline on both traditional and new media platforms, and reinforce support to the implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. In this regard, the training’s objective was to reinforce the capacities of security forces in the domain of communications and relations with the press. “If security forces wish to establish relationships based on trust with citizens, they have to establish professional relationships with the media in order to ensure that their work in service to the population is known” underlined Gwang-Chol Chang, Interim Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa (Sahel) in Dakar.
During 6 days, 40 policemen and gendarmes, as well as 10 journalists and women human rights defenders discussed the challenges related to the lack of communication and information they encounter on a daily basis in their professions. “Often, people only talk about where the work of security forces and media professionals goes wrong, and not the positive aspects of our work. We want people to see us as professionals worried about their well-being. Media professionals and security forces are both public servants, and we must work together for the good of the population” underlined one of the security force members participating in the workshop. During the training, the absence of dialogue between security forces and media was often evoked: “Security forces must improve their communication with the media, because ignoring the media means you are increasing the risk of divulging incorrect information that could even lead to civil unrest” underlined another security force member.
The ongoing question of trust between professionals was also evoked: “Security forces and media professionals have to communicate and break the lack of trust that exists between them. We expect a lot from journalists because they are the voice of the world,” declared one of the participants. A journalist present underlined their hope to “build confidence in order to work with security forces, and know that our right to freedom of expression and safety are guaranteed, and that good collaboration can exist between us.”
“It’s not about pointing fingers at one group and taking away responsibility from the other in this training, but about really underlining the responsibilities of all involved” highlighted the principal trainer, Commander Ian Lafreniere. In order to frame the practical exercises during the training, he drew from lessons learned during his experiences in the field, both in Canada and other parts of Africa, and a panel of specialists from the United Nations and local organizations defending freedom of expression.
In Senegal, at the National level, human and peoples’ rights are recognized in the preamble of the Constitution. The African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights equally recognizes the right to access to information. However, as evoked by Fatou Jagne Senghor, regional Director of Article 19 for West Africa, “even if freedom of expression is guaranteed in Senegal, practice is in advance of the legal texts that remain binding. This is a subject that is part of current debates because today journalists and media organizations are advocating for the decriminalization of certain media practices in the legal texts in Senegal.”
Madame Aby Coly, from the Platform of Women for Peace, also underlined the need to respect women’s rights, and human rights more broadly. Madame Eugenie Aw, journalist and former director of the CESTI school of journalism in Dakar, echoed Madame Coly’s statement by highlighting the specific experience of women media professionals in the field. She noted, for example, that in Senegal only 10% of media reports are given to women media professionals. In addition, she stressed, “the first gender-based violence is in the media. As it concerns the image of women, even if many television presenters are women, stereotypes remain abundant. How can we make sure that women can exercise their profession as journalists without having to specifically underline that they are women journalists?” she asked.
These questions and reflections in the framework of the training are central elements of UNESCO’s work in support of freedom of the press, the safety of journalists, freedom of expression, gender equality in the media, and access to information. The dialogue allowed for security forces, media professionals, and defender’s of women’s rights to better understand each other, the importance of their work, and their respective roles in improving cooperation and dialogue between them. At the end of the training, the first of its kind in Senegal following similar trainings by UNESCO in Tunisia, Somalia, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Mali, participants were provided with a pedagogical tool kit allowing them to reinforce their newly acquired knowledge, put it into practice, and train their colleagues to work across disciplines and professions while respecting human rights.
This training, based on the UNESCO curriculum on Freedom of Expression and Public Order, is part of a broader effort in the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, led by UNESCO, with the intention of coordinating the work of different stakeholders in this domain. The training occurred in the framework of UNESCO’s work in promoting an enabling environment for freedom of expression, press freedom, and the safety of journalists in order to facilitate media pluralism and support sustainable and independent journalism. The training also benefitted from additional technical support from the Kingdom of Norway.
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