African Court to fight crimes against journalists
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights partner to fight impunity for crimes against journalists.
The rate of impunity for crimes against journalists remains extremely high worldwide, according to UNESCO figures, which show that since 2006, fewer than 7 per cent of these crimes have been brought to justice.
In Africa, only five of the 131 murders of journalists committed between 2006 and 2015 has been brought to court, Ms Zulmira Rodrigues, Head of UNESCO at Dar es Salam Office, Tanzania stated to announce days of activism to herald International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
November 2, has been slated as the International Day to end impunity for crimes against Journalists as crime against journalists is considered as one of the main factors fueling the cycle of violence against the exercises of freedom of expression.
Speaking at a day’s seminar for Senior Editors, Journalists, Judges and Lawyers from over 30 African Countries at Arusha, Tanzania; Ms Rodrigues explained that the event seeks to raise awareness and help reinforce capacity building of law professionals in Africa regarding freedom of expression.
She noted that, access to information remains to be a fundamental freedom which is part of the basic human rights to freedom of expression. “Receiving and imparting information both online and offline are cornerstones for the very foundation of democracy, good governance and rule of law.
“However, freedoms of expression guarantees are of little value if journalists cannot exercise this right in safety”.
Ms Rodrigues noted that where individual journalists or media organizations are routinely subjected to surveillance, threats, harassments or physical attacks, the media cannot exercises its role as a platform for democratic discourse.
She noted that: “Legal protection for journalists in the exercise of their profession is an important prerequisite for freedom of expression”.
Ms Rodrigues noted that operators of judicial systems – Judges, prosecutors, lawyers, investigative police officers, are crucial in addressing the issues of impunity against journalists.
She noted that deepening and sharing experiences and jurisprudences of regional courts, as well as decisions from national high courts, can be an important tool in fighting impunity by raising knowledge about international standards and international law.
Justice Augustino Ramadhani, outgoing President of the African Court noted that by increasing the safety of journalists, reinforcing the fight against impunity and raising awareness forms part of a broader UN plan of action on the safety of journalists and issues of impunity.
He called on African Governments to join the global campaign to promote freedom of expression, freedom of the press, safety of journalists and the fight against impunity especially in Africa.
“By increasing the safety of journalists, reinforcing the fight against impunity and raising awareness about the decriminalization of defamation, will contribute to fostering peace and security, good governance, democracy and rule of law in Africa,” Justice Ramadhani stated.
Justice Ramadhani member States to the declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, which reaffirms the fundamental importance of freedom of expression as an individual human right, as a cornerstone of democracy and as a means of ensuring respect for all human rights and freedoms.
He noted that the media and other means of communication are considered as key actors in assisting people to make informed decisions and in facilitating and strengthening democracy given its capacity to reach a wide audience.
Justice Ramadhani explained that AfCHPR Freedom of Expression hinges on the right to seek receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy.
“Everyone shall have an equal opportunity to exercise the right to freedom of expression and to access information without discrimination. No one shall be subject to arbitrary interference with his or her freedom of expression.
“Any restrictions on freedom of expression shall be provided by law, serve a legitimate interest and be necessary and in a democratic society”.
He said the principle also imposes an obligation on the authorities to take positive measures to promote diversity, which include availability and promotion of a range of information and ideas to the public.
He said governments are mandated to create a pluralistic access to the media and other means of communication, including the vulnerable or marginalised groups, such as women, children and refugees, as well as linguistic and cultural groups.
Others are the promotion and protection of African voices, including through media in local languages; and the promotion of the use of local languages in public affairs, including in the courts.
“Public bodies hold information not for themselves but as custodians of the public good and everyone has a right to access this information, subject only to clearly defined rules established by law,” he said.
Justice Ramadhani said any attack such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public.
He said: “States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies”.
Ms Joan A. Obiero, Associate Legal Officer, Office of Legal Counsel African Union, Kenya speaking on the Protocol and Declaration of the African Court stressed the need to identify and strengthen strategies to increase the number of African Countries ratifying the Protocol as only 30 countries have done so.
She expressed concern that out of the 30 countries who have ratified the Protocol only seven countries have deposited the Declaration allowing their citizens to present their cases to the African Court.
The seven Countries who have deposited the declaration are: Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Malawi, Benin and Tanzania. Rwanda made the declaration on February 6, 2013 but has recently served noticed for the withdrawal of the declaration next year.
The 23 States who have ratified the Protocol but are yet to make the declaration are: Algeria, Burundi, Cameroon , Chad, Comoros, Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Mauritania, Mauritius, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, South Africa, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda.
Mr Guy Berger, Director of the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Communications and Information Sector UNESCO noted that Journalists are public symbols of the wider right of each person to speak freely and without fear.
“They are the cock that crows in the morning. People pay attention to what happens to them; if a journalist is attacked the signal is that ordinary people should button their lips. A woman journalist is especially a symbol for women more broadly.
“Attacks on journalists that go unpunished, also send a very public signal that the rule of law is not being applied; that justice is not being applied and Journalists who can work without fear can promote vigilance towards the rule of law,” he said.
Mr Berger noted “In fact, both the rule of law and the exercise of free and independent journalism can only exist in an environment where attacks, harassments and arbitrary arrests against journalists are not the norm; they are not accepted by the society”.
He noted that it is important to prioritise cases involving journalists as court rulings in regard to Journalists resonate very far beyond the individual cases concerned. They impact on the building of human rights norms much more broadly.