UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

10/01/2019 | News release | Distributed by Public on 10/01/2019 07:19

Safety of journalists in West Africa: UNESCO strengthens the capacities of Supreme Court Judges

Some 20 Supreme Court Judges from ECOWAS countries took part in a regional training workshop in Dakar, Senegal, from 24 to 25 September 2019, to promote international and regional case law on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.

In partnership with the Supreme Court of Senegal, UNESCO's Multisectoral Office for West Africa-Sahel organized a regional workshop for Supreme Court Judges from ECOWAS countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.

According to data from the UNESCO Observatory on killed Journalists, from 2000 to 2019, 177 journalists were murdered in Africa, including 22 in West Africa. However, only 18 cases were resolved in Africa compared to 3 in West Africa. The data reveals the importance of involving the judiciary in the fight against impunity for crimes against journalists. This workshop aimed to strengthen the capacities of judicial actors regarding freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in order to combat impunity.

Mr Horace Adjolohoun, an expert from the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, encouraged exchanges on international and regional case law on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. During the workshop, participants exchanged various judgments cases related to human rights and freedom of expression in Africa and West Africa, in particular. Mr Horace Adjolohoun, made a presentation on the case law of the ACHPR and the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice.

Ms Fatou Jagne Senghor, Director of ARTICLE19 West Africa, spoke about the safety of journalists in the context of West Africa. She pointed out that some of the ways to guarantee safety are 'to establish a favourable legal framework; to have political will to respect plural and critical expressions; a culture of tolerance; and an organic and functional independence of the judiciary and regulatory bodies'.

The workshop was an opportunity for participants to present its own case law, and to provide examples of judgments handed down at the national level on freedom of expression and safety of journalists. These presentations highlighted a wide divergence among the judgments on cases of violations of freedom of expression, and revealed a considerable misalignment with international, continental and Community case law.

The workshop was launched by the First President of the Supreme Court of Senegal, Mr. Mamadou Badio Camara. During his opening speech, Mr Camara recalled the need to strengthen the rule of law, respect and promote human rights, particularly the safety of journalists, in times of peace and conflict. Mr Dimitri Sanga, Director of UNESCO Office in West Africa, highlighted the crucial role of judicial actors in guaranteeing freedoms and ending impunity. 'Freedom of expression, freedom of the press and the safety of journalists are inseparable and interdependent. Each country must work for an environment that guarantees that men and women of media can work without fear of threat, intimidation, physical injury or murder,' said Mr Camara.

The meeting conluded with twelve recommendations aimed at reducing impunity for those who violate the freedom of expression of journalists in West Africa. Among other things, the recommendations included: organising a dialogue between judges and media professionals; encouraging NGOs to become more involved in awareness-raising activities on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in accordance to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; encouraging States to adopt specific laws on access to information.

This workshop was organized with the support of UNESCO's Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists.