40 Burkinabe police officers and members of the gendarmerie were trained on respecting human rights, press freedom and the safety of journalists in Ouagadougou at the end of 2016. The 3 day training was also the first time law enforcement officers from Burkina Faso had the opportunity to directly exchange experiences with journalists to better work together on these issues. The workshop, which was organized by UNESCO and l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), in partnership with the National Police Academy of Burkina Faso, from 28 November until 3 December 2016, falls within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
Law enforcement officers from different regions in Burkina Faso took part in the training, which focused on the legal framework concerning press freedom and safety of journalists, different communication techniques, as well as on the importance to build a professional relationship with journalists and media workers. “We hope that we will now be able to better understand each other on the ground, so that each one can exercise his profession properly”, said Principal police commissioner in charge of in-service training, Abdoulaye Gandema, who also participated in the training.
A professional relationship between security forces and journalists is essential in democracy, to ensure that all citizens can have access to information and freely express themselves in a safe environment. Commissioner Gandema explained that they play a different, yet complementary role in promoting freedom of expression, and that their relationship is instrumental in how effective their work in this matter is. “Hence, it is necessary to develop forms of collaboration based on reciprocal trust and respect for each other’s rules”, he explained.
The participating law enforcement officers were also encouraged to develop a draft code of conduct and establish procedures ensuring a safe working environment for journalists, to have a more fundamental impact on journalists’ safety. At the end of the workshop, they worked on a set of recommendations on, for instance, the need for a joint mechanism to facilitate interaction between the two parties to improve their relationship on the ground.
Police commissioner Gandema said that the training was a success, particularly because it was the first opportunity for police officers and journalists to have a conversation with each other. “This gave us the opportunity to discover the constraints of their profession and we also explained some of our decisions which may not always facilitate their work”. This constructive dialogue helped both groups to better understand each other’s realities, expectations and constraints.
Since the popular uprising in October 2014, Burkina Faso is going through a transition period, working towards establishing democratic systems and institutions. Strengthening the capacities of police officers and members of the gendarmerie to respect freedom of expression and the safety of journalists is facilitating both groups to fulfil their missions, which are essential to democracy, in a constructive and safe environment.
This project has received technical support from the Kingdom of Norway.