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UNESCO holds conference on role of judiciary, international cooperation to foster safety of journalists

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UNESCO

Freedom of expression and safety of journalists as well as ending impunity for crimes committed against them are of vital importance to ensure the rule of law and human rights more broadly, the United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has said.

According to the agency, “without a minimum level of public order, citizens and journalists cannot fully enjoy their right to free expression.”

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In a statement issued in Paris, the agency noted that “the judiciary plays an essential role in the protection of freedom of expression, freedom of press and access to information.

“It can, in particular, ensure the safety of journalists, in terms of prevention, protection against, and prosecution of crimes and attacks against journalists,” it noted.

To this end, the agency is set to hold a webinar on the role of the judiciary, international cooperation to foster the safety of journalists. The conference is scheduled to hold on March 1, 2021.

For this conference, UNESCO and members of the Group of Friends on the Safety of Journalists will explore effective ways to strengthen international cooperation, such as special procedures, and the role of the judiciary – including judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as regional human rights courts and judicial training institutes – in fostering the safety of journalists and combatting impunity for crimes against journalists.

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While looking at gender dimension in each panel, a special spotlight will be shed on gender-specific and gender-based crimes and the particular challenges faced by women in finding justice.

The event is an opportunity to highlight the importance of fostering the involvement and cooperation of member states, UN agencies (UNESCO, UNODC, OHCHR) and regional courts to tackle the wide-ranging threats faced by journalists and the prevailing impunity for crimes committed against them.

The agency is working with security forces and the judiciary to support their role in protecting and ensuring an environment conducive to freedom of expression, access to information and other fundamental freedoms.

Its training programmes targeting security force members, judges and members of the judiciary are being implemented both online and on the ground, including in Latin America, Africa and the Arab states.

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“Security forces must, therefore, protect journalists against attacks by those who seek to prevent them from informing the public.

“They must ensure that journalists can access areas and information about matters of public interest. Law enforcement officers are not always familiar with the importance of the right to freedom of expression and how to deal with journalists in a way that respects the freedom of the press.”

It added, “they are also often insufficiently equipped to prevent criminally or politically motivated attacks against journalists by violent or extremist groups.

“UNESCO is sensitising security forces on the importance of establishing a good level of communication and transparency with the media, as well as the advantages of constructing professional relationships with journalists.

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“Building these relationships can also help keep the population informed during critical periods such as elections.”

The first panel, which is themed, ‘Responses by national justice systems’, will feature Kate O’Reagan, Director, Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at Oxford University and former judge of the South African Constitutional Court: Jeanette Manning, Director, NATGRI Centre for International Partnerships and Strategic Collaboration, International Association of Prosecutors; Yetnayet Desalegn, Representative of the Judicial Training Institute of Ethiopia; Ricardo Sánchez Pérez Del Pozo, Special Prosecutor’s Office for Attention to Crimes committed against Freedom of Expression, Mexico; Roberta Solis, Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer, UNODC. It will be moderated by Guilherme Canela, Chief of Section, Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists, UNESCO.

The second panel, themed ‘International and regional mechanisms and responses in combatting impunity’ has Horace Adjolohoun, Principal Legal Officer, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Baroness Helena Kennedy, Director, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI); Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression as speakers. It will be moderated by Guy Berger, Director, Division for Communication and Information Strategy and Policy, UNESCO.

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The third panel will spotlight the safety of women journalists and the challenges of investigating and prosecuting gender-based violence faced by journalists.

Shiori Ito, journalist and filmmaker;
Caoilfhionn Gallagher, human rights and media law barrister, leading the international legal teams representing Maria Ressa and the family of Daphne Caruana Galizia; Pedro José Vaca Villarreal, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will interrogate the issue while Julie Posetti, Global Director of Research, International Center for Journalists is expected to moderate.
MEANWHILE, the United Nations has condemned all attacks against journalists and call on the authorities and political practitioners to respect the freedom of the press and the right to information.

The organisation said a free and independent press, free from censorship and coercion, is essential for the development of peace, respect for justice and the promotion of human rights.

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The UN is concerned about the increase in cases of attacks against journalists covering demonstrations, noting that “covering live events is at the heart of journalistic work, which is essential to ensure press freedom and the right to information.”

In light of the documented allegations, the United Nations is worried that law enforcement officials have committed acts against certain media actors acting in the scope of their professional functions. These acts have the upshot of limiting the right to freedom of expression and access to information.

The organisation urged the security forces to review their practices and promptly address violence against journalists and other media stakeholders, to such an extent that any abuses and proven violations are subject to sanctions following duly conducted investigation.

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