Article

Pledging for Ending Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in Eastern Africa

UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa giving his opening speech © UNESCO/Cynthia Meru

Commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists

Commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in Eastern Africa ended with a pledge for strengthening national mechanisms for safety of journalists, for accelerating investigations into attacks on journalists, and activating prosecutorial efforts in order to tackle the high rates of impunity.

The one-day commemoration event under the theme “Countering threats of violence and crimes against journalists to protect freedom of expression for all”, was held in Nairobi, Kenya, and drew participants from Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya. It underscored the increasing threats against journalists, that sometimes result in the murder, creating a climate of fear for media professionals, and curtailing the free flow of information, opinions and ideas to citizens.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of this event, the UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa, Prof. Hubert Gijzen, decried the increasing trend of extra-judicial targeting of journalists as retaliation for doing their work of telling the truth.

UNESCO is extremely worried by this increasing trend of extra-judicial targeting of journalists. Sadly, most of such crimes go unpunished: out of ten journalists killed, only one gets judicial closure, according to UNESCO global monitoring reports. Such high levels of impunity have a chilling effect on our democracy.
Prof. Hubert Gijzen, UNESCO Regional Director for Eastern Africa and Representative to Kenya

Prof. Gijzen nevertheless acknowledged the growing international recognition of the need to protect journalists against unwarranted attacks, citing the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, and the recent UN declarations recognizing  the specificity of threats faced by journalists, and calling for renewed global cooperation to end impunity for crimes committed against them, as signs of hope for tackling impunity.

Representatives of different media associations echoed the same call of respecting the rights of journalists and tackling impunity for crimes committed against them. The Chairman of the Eastern Africa Editors’ Forum, Churchill Otieno, called for concerted efforts to protecting journalists, arguing that “entities that value the existence of a free media need no convincing that the safety and security of journalists is necessary for the enjoyment of freedom and a public good that a free media provides”.

The Director of Public Prosecutions of the Republic of Kenya, Mr. Noordin Haji underscored the need to protection of journalists and paid tribute to generations of journalists, whom he referred to as “real patriots”, who contributed to the democratic rights prevailing in Kenya.

This Bill of Rights we currently enjoy was written on the blood of patriots including journalists, and that is why we must protect these freedoms as a society.
Mr. Noordin Haji, Director of Public Prosecutions of the Republic of Kenya

Participants also called for strengthening investigating journalism and establishing a sub-regional co-ordination mechanism to facilitate networking and a regional approach to tackling crimes against journalists.

*****

This activity was funded under UNESCO’s Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP) which serves to further strengthen UNESCO’s work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It was implemented in partnership with the Media Council of Kenya, which is an independent national institution established by the Media Council Kenya Act, No. 46 of 2013 for purposes of setting of media standards and ensuring compliance with those standards as envisaged by Article 34(5) on Freedom of the Media of the Constitution of Kenya.