UNESCO held a series of consultations in Iraq with representatives of the Government, parliament, media institutions and civil society as part of ongoing effort related to implementation of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Iraq is a first-phase country for the ground-breaking UN-wide initiative, which has taken on added urgency as 2013 has seen the number of killings of journalists spike with none of the perpetrators brought to justice.
UNESCO met with representatives from 21 different stakeholder groups and obtained pledges of support for implementation of the UN Action Plan, with several organizations committing to immediately start preparing their contributions to the UN Plan in advance of a conference planned for 2014 that will result in a set of recommendations and national implementation plan for Iraq.
“The Prime Minister’s office supports any initiative on the safety of journalists and applies the law preventing arrest and killing of journalists,” said Miriam al Rayes, special advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Amliki, pledging the support of the office to the conference and implementation of the UN Plan.
Several meetings highlighted the necessity of understanding the main sources of threats to journalists and trends with respect to safety, including terrorism, politicization of the media, and professional and ethical lapses. The nation-wide elections scheduled for 30 April 2014 have also put the spotlight on journalist safety. “The elections will be very dangerous,” said Mouaid Al-Lami, chair of the Iraqi Journalist Syndicate (IJS) foreign relations department, a sentiment echoed by journalists and advocacy NGOs as well.
Consultations also highlighted the desire of many stakeholders to learn from international experiences and best practices from other countries on how to design freedom of expression and media laws that help protect and support journalists and the role of media in a democracy. Similarly, there was keen interest in learning about what actions other first-phase countries, such as Nepal and Pakistan, are taking.
Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights, the Ministry of Human Rights and the Human Rights Committee in Kurdistan highlighted their role in monitoring freedom of expression in Iraq and working with other governmental bodies to build their capacity to positively engage with and protect media and journalists.
Commissioners from the CMC said the main regulatory body would help raise awareness in parliament about key freedom of expression issues and how to address the threats against journalist safety, such as by publishing all UN Plan activities in the official register Tawwasol. In the same vein, the chair of the Culture and Media Committee in the Council of Representatives, Ali AlShalah, said he would present the outcome document from the conference to Parliament for endorsement, and highlighted the importance of focusing on the cases of journalists working in the Provinces, who tend to be unknown and less protected.
Along the same vein, the Ministry of Interior said it was “ready to do anything” to support the plan, noting that each year police and MOI staff receive training on human rights, and that it would be willing to include a more explicit focus on freedom of expression and working with journalists and the media.
IJS and the Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate (KJS), both of which monitor violations and advocate for journalists, said they would work with stakeholders in the media and government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to put journalist safety at the forefront, and noted that the lack of contracts, safety training and preparation for journalists are key components affecting their safety. KJS noted that a memorandum of understanding had been signed between journalists, security forces and the judiciary in KRG related to safety of journalists, and IJS would be interested in taking a similar step.
IJS said it was ready to advocate on behalf of all journalists, regardless of whether they were members of the syndicate, and noted that a few months ago the syndicate had changed its policy on requiring all journalists to register or have an identity card from the syndicate following criticism from national and international observers over what many saw as a restrictive practice out of line with international best standards. The Syndicate also agreed to translate key documents related to the implementation of the UN Plan in Nepal and Pakistan into Arabic to facilitate learning and information sharing from other pilot country initiatives.
KJS and KRG-based governmental and civil society groups agreed to support the conference, which will be held in Baghdad, and send their representatives to it.