African Court to fight crimes against journalists

By
Francis Ameyibor, GNA Correspondent, Arusha Tanzania

Arusha, Sept. 12, GNA – 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.

GNA

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