South Sudan Commemorates the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Committed Against Journalists 2021

Participants at the IDEI National Event in Juba © UNESCO

South Sudan joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day to End Impunity for crimes committed against journalists (IDEI) on 2-3 November 2021 in Juba. The national conference marked under the theme “Countering threats of violence and crimes against journalists to protect freedom of expression for all” brought together over 150 government, CSOs, academia, Judiciary, and media development stakeholders that discussed the agenda on promotion of safety and protection of Journalists in the country.

This year’s national conference aimed at strengthening networks and rallying support of various stakeholders to prioritize promotion of safety of journalists at policy, capacity, and institutional level. Speaking at the event, Hon. Yath Awan Yath, Undersecretary Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and Telecommunication noted the enormous challenges faced by the media/journalists in the country that go beyond impunity. He stated that the ministry is concerned with the development of the media sector and have come together to form a national media working group, in which the government will play an important role to define the agenda, work and mobilize resources for the advancement of the media sector.

South Sudan has made progress by putting in place legal frameworks to support freedom of expression and development of the media in the country.  Such laws include the 3 media laws (Media Authority Act 2013, Right of Access to Information Act 2013, and South Sudan Broadcasting Act,2013) and Article 24 in the Transitional Constitution on freedom of expression. Efforts have also been made to establish the line institutions such as the Media Authority that has been has mandated to regulate the media in South Sudan.

With the establishment of the Media Authority, The Managing Director, Mr. Elijah Alier reported that “incidences of murder, arrest and arbitrary detention have significantly reduced as we promote professional and responsible media. As we commemorate the IDEI there is no journalist in prison as of today”. Mr. Elijah added that the Authority has investigated, amicably resolved and mitigated over 130 media complaints and cases of breach and violation of media laws and at least 214 media enterprises have been registered to legally operate in South Sudan since February 2017.

The Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mr. James Pui, further encouraged journalists to be professional as they report but also stick to the laws that are regulating their operation and activities. “If you stick to the laws you will combat attempts of interference with your work/activities”. On behalf of the organized forces, I assure you that we shall respect your rights”. Gen. James Stated.

Mr. Daniel Majak, UJOSS Secretary General asked the government to take the lead in promoting safety of Journalists and noted the good work done by the government with development of the Code of Conduct on the practice of Journalism in South Sudan and called on stakeholders/partners to support dissemination of the code of ethics to every journalist in South Sudan.

Despite the milestones, the government was encouraged to take actions/steps to harmonize Articles on defamation under the Media Authority Act, 2013 and Penal code Act, 2008 as the country is currently reviewing the constitution and other laws. “We call for the decriminalization of defamation in the Penal Code Act, 2008 and let defamation be considered a civil offence”, stated Mr. Julius Banda, Head of Office and UNESCO Representative to South Sudan.

In addition, stakeholders were urged to prioritize and put to the fore front efforts geared towards establishment of a national mechanisms to ensure the safety and protection and efforts to end impunity. A monitoring and reporting mechanism on the safety of journalists is an established system that allows the collection and dissemination of official information on crimes against journalists and their judicial follow-up.

Mr. Banda reminded the government and other stakeholders to look into the status of the legal investigations being conducted into the unresolved cases and submit reports in which the IPDC Council urges Member States to “inform the UNESCO Director-General on the status of the judicial inquiries conducted on each of the killings [of journalists] condemned by the Director-General”.

This year’s national event was jointly organized by the AMDISS, National Press Club of South Sudan, local media houses/associations and civil society organizations with support from UNESCO Multi-Donor Programme on freedom of expression and safety of journalists.