The African Union (AU) and UNESCO have been called on to work together, in collaboration with other interested stakeholders, to develop the AU Working Group on Safety of Journalists into an operational, multi-stakeholder framework, for a robust Coordination Mechanism in Africa.
These were some of the key recommended measures on coordination and aligned to the objectives of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, aimed at ensuring both duty and right bearers, work together in addressing safety of journalists’ concerns in Africa. The Plan which calls on creation of coordinated inter-agency mechanism also advocates for assistance to countries to develop legislation and mechanisms, favourable to freedom of expression and information.
This Interregional Forum was organised jointly by UNESCO, the African Union Commission and the Government of Ethiopia and took place on 26-27 November 2018, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, within the Framework of the Commemoration of the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists’. It was informed by the need to support the AU member states, in realisation of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.10.1, in promoting peaceful and inclusive societies through monitoring and reporting media rights violations and in achievement of Agenda 2063 Aspiration 3, an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
Speaking during the opening session, Edouard Matoko, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Priority Africa and External Relations, emphasized on UNESCO’s commitment to partnership with AU and other media stakeholders, in all the efforts to promote safety of journalists on the African continent. He stressed on the need to coordinate among all the stakeholders, in addressing the freedom of expression challenges on the continent "If we want to have the Africa we want, freedom of expression is the key and addressing safety of journalists and end to impunity requires concerted efforts by both duty and right bearers at all levels", said Mr. Matoko.
Echoing these sentiments, His Excellency Bengt Van Loosdrech, Kingdom of Netherlands Ambassador in Ethiopia, shared his past experience as a journalists and outlined the many reasons on why there is a great need for Journalists to be provided with an enabling environment to do their job. “Journalists have to be respected and politicians need to accept journos' role to uncover the facts professionally through investigative journalism,” stressed H.E Van Loosdrech.
Uganda's Government Spokesperson who also doubles up as the Government Safety of Journalists Focal Person, emphasized the important role of the media and journalists’ safety on the continent saying, “Cognizant of the media’s role, we need to ensure journalists are safe by making the state apparatus democratic, transparent and responsive, both during conflict and non-conflict situations.”
Concerns were raised by delegates over the numerous legal and normative frameworks that are in place at the regional, sub regional and national levels, yet Africa is continuously ranked as having the countries whose media freedoms and end to impunity on crimes against journalists is low. In an effort to address this gap, delegates to the forum called on the AU to work with safety of journalists’ stakeholders and put in place an African annual assessment on media rights in Africa with comprehensive indicators that include Safety of journalists and other media rights.
Furthermore, the AU was urged to move expeditiously in establishing a representative technical working group to develop a draft blueprint for the Coordination Mechanism, which can be housed at the African Union Commission and to also conduct broad consultations, including in the five regions of Africa, with relevant stakeholders, with a view to ensuring that all views are taken into account and that the Coordination Mechanism secures the buy-in of AU Member States.
"There is no reason for anyone to suffer for their views as States have obligation to protect all journalists regardless of their views and the coordination mechanisms have to be based on a kind of a legal framework that will hold states and other actors accountable," stressed Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, the OHCHR Regional Representative to AU & UNECA. These words were further emphasised by the African Union Commission representative who highlighted the importance of safety of journalists ‘’Without safety of journalists, freedom of expression as a human right cannot be realised by the citizens” said Ambassador Salah Siddig Hammad, Senior Human Right Expert, Commission of Political Affairs , African Union Commission.
This Interregional Forum was organised with the kind support of the Kingdom of Netherlands through the International Programme for Development of Communication and with additional support from Article 19 and the African Freedom for Expression Exchange (AFEX).
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The International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. Since its creation in 1980, the Programme has successfully mobilized over US$110 million to strengthen the capacity of media in 140 countries.