UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity
Aiming to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers, thus strengthening peace, democracy and sustainable development worldwide, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity addresses the fundamental aspects of prevention, protection, and prosecution.
The Plan is calling for a coalition-based and holistic approach to its implementation. It includes six areas: raising awareness; standard setting and policy making; monitoring and reporting; capacity building and research.
According to the UN Plan of Action, we cooperate with governments, media houses, professional associations, NGOs and other stakeholders to #EndImpunity.
10th Anniversary of the UN Plan of Action
In the past 10 years, the Plan has contributed to the launch of a multitude of networks, bringing together a wide array of relevant stakeholders to foster a safer environment for journalists and media workers.
on the implementation and development of the UN Plan of Action and related initiatives.
One of the main ambitions of the UN Plan of Action is to sensitize the public as well as key stakeholders and partners on the societal importance of independent and professional journalism. UNESCO, in association with Member States and other UN agencies, organize International Days such as World Press Freedom Day, on May 3rd, and the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, on November 2nd. These serve as tools for discussion, analysis and development of both international and local initiatives related to freedom of press, the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
Standard Setting and Policy making
The growing recognition at regional and national levels of the importance of ensuring the safety of journalists needs to be structured by a general framework which can serve as a reference to define mechanisms tasked to take steps to protect the right to freedom of expression. A fundamental aspect of the UN Plan of Action is the establishment of global standards upon which regional and national policies can draw inspiration from.
At least 50 countries have created or strengthened National Safety Mechanisms for the protection of, prevention against, and prosecution of attacks against journalists, based on resolutions by the UN. Many of these mechanisms see success thanks to their multi-stakeholder nature, bringing together government representatives, civil society, law enforcement actors and media organizations.
Monitoring and Reporting
Monitoring and data reporting on the state of press freedom and the safety of journalists worldwide are crucial elements to ensure positive and sustainable change. They also make it possible to further investigate specific issues such as attacks on journalists or even their murders. By establishing precise criteria such as nationality, gender, type of media or employment status, the databases make it possible to determine the degree of danger to journalists in a country.
This being one of the core areas of the UN Plan of Action, the UN have developed since 1993 various databases to monitor the state of press freedom both internationally and nationally. Some of them, such as the UNESCO Observatory on Killed Journalists, initiated in 2018, provides specific details such as documents from Member States on the status of the judicial proceedings, which allows to insights into levels of impunity per-country.
In addition to guiding international, national and local policies, the UN Plan of Action seeks to have an impact on the ground, through capacity building trainings for local actors, including journalists, security forces, and the judiciary. These efforts also involve assisting national governments in developing and enacting legal frameworks favourable to freedom of expression and freedom of information.
To fulfill this goal, UNESCO has signed Memorandums of Understanding with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the IberoAmerican Judicial Summit. Such initiatives, among others, have strengthened policies related to freedom of expression, access to information, safety of journalists and ending impunity for crimes committed against them.
- UNESCO manual for training security forces.
- A Toolkit for Judges on Freedom of Expression
- Toolkit for African judges on legal standards for freedom of expression used to train over 3,000 judicial operators in Africa.
- Toolkit for Latin American judges on legal standards for freedom of expression.
- Global toolkit for judicial actors: international legal standards on freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists
- Training security forces and the judiciary on freedom of expression
- Guidelines for prosecutors on cases of crimes against journalists
- MOOC for judicial actors on freedom of expression, co-organised by UNESCO and Oxford University
- Strengthening training of judicial operators from Portuguese-speaking African countries
Effective and substantial change on issues related to the safety of journalists needs to be investigated in depth to identify concrete solutions and proposals. The current digital era in particular creates new opportunities for media workers but also challenges journalism by introducing new dangers for media professionals, especially women journalists.
Women journalists are victims of new forms of attacks and defamation, such as online harassment, cyberstalking, rape threats, trolling or hacking. These aggressions are often more vicious and involve sexual or sexist language.
On these issues and more, the UN Plan of Action commits to the area of academic research. For instance, UNESCO has been organizing, since 2016, an annual academic conference on the safety of journalists, to actively promote further research in this area.
- World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development
- The Chilling: global trends in online violence against women journalists; research discussion paper
Two excerpts of the full-length The Chilling report were launched on the occasion of the 2022 World Press Freedom Day. The Chilling: what more can news organisations do to combat gendered online violence? and The Chilling: assessing big tech's response to online violence against women journalists
Creating a safe environment for journalists involve many layers of action. The multifaceted challenges cannot be tackled individually. Thus, the UN joined forces with media, NGOs, academia and governments to develop the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. This coalition-based mechanism requires the exchange of information to encourage dialogue between the different stakeholders and complementarity between their actions. It is coordinated both by global level coalitions, such as the Coalition on Safety of Journalists (CSO), and regional and sub-regional coalitions, such as the African interregional forum held at the UN Economic Commission of Africa. Nowadays, the UN Plan of Action is implemented in more than 30 countries.
- Coalition on Safety of Journalist
- Media Freedom Coalition
The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was conceived upon request of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).
The first UN Inter-Agency Meeting on this issue, convened by the Director-General of UNESCO at the request of the IPDC Intergovernmental Council, sees the preparation of the UN Plan of Action.
The UN Chief Executives Board, the highest-level coordination mechanism in the UN system endorses the UN Plan of Action, giving way to a second UN Inter-Agency meeting where a comprehensive Implementation Strategy was adopted.
The Implementation Strategy served as the basis for the review process which took place during the third UN Inter-Agency meeting.
A Multi-Stakeholder consultation on strengthening the implementation of UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity report took stock of developments and best practices of the first five years of the implementation of the UN Plan of Action. The Outcome Document of the meeting lists options for specific stakeholders to enhance the impact of the UN Plan of Action. A comprehensive report of the meeting can be consulted here.
A decade after the creation of the UN Plan of Action, important progress has been made at the international level in recognizing the safety of journalists as a pre-condition for freedom of expression, democracy and sustainable development. This is reflected by the adoption of resolutions and declarations by the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the UN Crime Congress, the UNESCO General Conference and by regional organizations, as well as by the dedicated indicator on the safety of journalists (SDG 16.10.1) to measure progress towards the achievement of the SDGs. Intensified attacks against journalists are being met with a growing commitment to monitoring, protection, prevention and prosecution mechanisms for the safety of journalists. New coalitions, involving Members States, civil society, the media and academia reflect a stronger and more coordinated response to the safety of journalists, in line with the UN Plan of Action.
However, despite all this progress, journalists and media workers continue to be killed or subject to high rates of detention, physical attacks, intimidation – using inter alia legal systems, harassment offline and online, including when covering protests. Women journalists are particularly exposed to online harassment. Impunity for these crimes committed remains the norm. These developments intersect with a crisis concerning the economic viability of media outlets, the covid-led disruption, and a shrinking civic space. New forms of controlling the media, and the increased role of internet platforms have led to further new challenges for freedom of expression, privacy and the safety of journalists.
UN Agencies and Special Rapporteurs involved in the issue of safety of journalists
UN Agencies, programmes and funds currently working on the safety of journalists
Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Strengthening the Implementation of the UN Plan of Action:
- Outcome Document and Report (2017)
- Implementation Review Report for the 2013-2014 period (2015)
- UNESCO Work Plan on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (2013)
- Implementation Strategy for 2013-2014 (2012)
- Operationalizing the UN Plan of Action at the country level (2012)