“Today, I am highly concerned and deeply saddened. It is my unfortunate task to inform you that this year is shaping up to be the worst on record for journalists killings since the International Press Institute began keeping count 15 years ago.” With those words International Press Institute (IPI) executive director, Alison Bethel McKenzie, presented the report The State of Press Freedom Worldwide during the IPI World Congress in Trinidad and Tobago.
“So far this year, 72 journalists have died because of their work,” she said. Syria has recorded the highest number killed so far in 2012, where 20 journalists and citizen reporters –both foreign and local- have lost their lives.
The International Press Institute (IPI) was set up in 1950 and is the world’s oldest network of editors, media executives and leading journalists dedicated to press freedom, the protection of freedom of opinion and expression, and the improvement of the practices of journalism. Hundreds of media professionals from all over the world, and especially the Caribbean, gathered in Trinidad and Tobago’s capital Port of Spain for its 60th World Congress.
On June 25th, during the third day of the IPI conference, four international special rapporteurs presented an important declaration on the freedom of expression and “on crimes against freedom of expression”:
- Frank La Rue, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression;
- Dunja Mijatovic, the Representative on Freedom of the Media of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE);
- Catalina Botero, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the Organisation of American States;
- Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information for the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
The Doha Centre for Media Freedom, represented at the IPI World Congress by its director general Jan Keulen, supports wholeheartedly the declaration that “condemns the prevailing state of impunity for crimes against freedom of expression and the apparent lack of political will in some countries to address these violations, with the result that an unacceptable number of these crimes are never prosecuted”. This impunity “emboldens the perpetrators and instigators and substantially increases the incidence of these crimes”.
The Joint Declaration on Crimes Against Freedom of Expression lists a number of general principles states should abide by:
- State officials should unequivocally condemn attacks committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression and should refrain from making statements that are likely to increase the vulnerability of those who are targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
- States should reflect in their legal systems and practical arrangements, as outlined below, the fact that crimes against freedom of expression are particularly serious in as much as they represent a direct attack on all fundamental rights.
- The above implies, in particular, that States should put in place special measures of protection for individuals who are likely to be targeted for what they say where this is a recurring problem; ensure that crimes against freedom of expression are subject to independent, speedy and effective investigations and prosecutions; and ensure that victims of crimes against freedom of expression have access to appropriate remedies.
The Declaration continues to list the obligations governments have to prevent and prohibits crimes against freedom of expression in order to protect individuals likely to be targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. It includes recommendations to set up specialised investigatory units and to create specialised protection programs, based on local needs and challenges.
Earlier, at one of the panels of the IPI Congress, UN rapporteur Frank de la Rue, listed the different kinds of harassments journalists are confronted with: physical and psychological violence, legal obstacles, technical obstruction (especially through the Internet) and a policy of secrecy and stigmatisation.
In the Joint Declaration not only governments are called to act against crimes against freedom of expression. Other stakeholders like inter-governmental organisations, media and civil society organisations should play a role. It is noteworthy that in the Middle East and North Africa, globally the region worst affected by crimes against freedom of expression, the inter-governmental Arab League is absent when it comes to monitor whether states are complying with their international obligations in the area of freedom of expression.
The Joint Declaration called on media organisations “to provide adequate safety, risk awareness and self-protection training and guidance to both permanent and freelance employees, along with security equipment where necessary”. Relevant civil society organisations and media should be encouraged, as appropriate, “to continue to monitor and report on crimes against freedom of expression, to coordinate global campaigns on crimes against freedom of expression, and to consolidate documentation, for example through a central website/portal.”
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- Joint declaration on crimes against freedom of expression
- СОВМЕСТНАЯ ДЕКЛАРАЦИЯ «О ПРЕСТУПЛЕНИЯХ ПРОТИВ СВОБОДЫ ВЫРАЖЕНИЯ МНЕНИЯ»
- Declaration conjointe relative aux crimes contre la liberte d'expression
- Declaracion conjunta sobre delitos contra la libertad de expresion
- الإعلان المشترك حول الجرائم ضد حرية التعبير