Training security forces and the judiciary on freedom of expression

About

UNESCO is implementing projects focused on training security forces and the judiciary with the aim to provide them with practical and theoretical tools to carry out their mission of maintaining order and upholding the rule of law, respectively, while respecting human rights, freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. These capacity-building projects fall under the framework of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.

The extent of the risks faced by journalists is reflected in the 930 killings recorded by UNESCO over the course of the past eleven years, from 2006 to 2016. Only ten per cent of these killings have been judicially resolved. To this, one needs to add the countless other violations endured by journalists, which include kidnappings, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, intimidation and harassment, both offline and online, and seizure or destruction of material.

The importance of capacity-building projects for law enforcement actors and members of the judiciary was emphasized during the Multi-Stakeholder Consultation on Strengthening the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in 2017 and its outcome document.

Protecting freedom of expression and other fundamental freedoms also contributes to promoting the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particularly target 16.10: Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental rights.

Security forces

Since 2013, UNESCO and its partners have been implementing training programmes for security forces on freedom of expression. The standard format of these courses is a three-day course for officers, which includes one day in common with journalists. More than 1,000 security forces have been trained in various countries including Burkina Faso, Colombia, Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Iraq, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Palestine, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Tunisia.

In Mali, the Peacekeeping School (Ecole de Maintien de la Paix-EMP), which trains officers from Mali and the sub region, officially adopted in 2017 the UNESCO curriculum on training security forces on freedom of expression and safety of journalists. In Tunisia, this training has become part in 2013 of the in-service curriculum of National Guard training institute.

The goal of these workshops is to train security forces to uphold citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and to better understand the role and function of journalists in democratic societies, and to establish professional working relationships between the two groups. Security forces can play an enabling role in situations of political and institutional change toward democratic societies, post-conflict situations as well as countries experiencing high levels of violence or instability.

The training, which is based on UNESCO’s manual “Freedom of Expression and Public Order” (available in Arabic, English and French), is specifically focusing on developing dialogues and reconciling the media and security forces. The manual offers a comprehensive program for training of security forces on freedom of expression, presenting the international framework regarding freedom of expression, examples of standards operating procedures and good practices, in particular in the fields of promoting transparency, facilitating relations between security forces and the media, and strengthening safety of journalists.

Judiciary

Since 2014, UNESCO and its partners have been training judges and judicial actors on freedom of expression, public access to information and safety of journalists, mainly through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). More than 5,000 judicial actors have been trained in Latin America, including 800 judges from 22 countries, since 2014. The project has been recently launched in Africa, in partnership with the Center for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

These training seminars aim to improve freedom of expression, public access to information and safety of journalists by reinforcing the capacities of judges and other actors of judicial systems on these issues. The courses provide judicial actors with an overview of the international and regional legal framework on freedom of expression, access to information, safety of journalists as well as the news challenges of the Internet.

Through a better understanding and knowledge of international and regional standards of freedom of expression and safety of journalists, judges and other members of the judiciary can better align their decisions with the international and regional standards and good practices on these issues.