On 1 March 2021, UNESCO and members of the Group of Friends on the Safety of Journalists held an international conference to explore effective ways to strengthen international cooperation and the role of the judiciary in fostering the safety of journalists and combatting impunity for crimes against journalists.
The theme of the virtual conference was ‘The role of the judiciary and international cooperation to foster safety of journalists – What works?’.
For purposes of the conference the judiciary included judges, prosecutors and investigators. The rationale for the conference was the large-scale impunity for crimes against journalists which necessitates better responses by the criminal justice system. It is clear that there is an need for greater awareness-raising and more effective capacity building of the judiciary to address crimes against journalists.
Much of the discussion focused on raising capacity-building efforts for judicial actors; enhancing political will at national and international levels; and strengthening institutional mechanisms to push for more effective enforcement of regional and international standards.
The conference aimed at identifying challenges and good practices in investigating and prosecuting crimes against journalists from the first phase of lodging a complaint in order to institute criminal justice proceedings to bringing a perpetrator to justice in a court.
One of the speakers, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom Expression and Opinion, Irene Khan, spoke of her experience in helping to assess the needs of prosecutorial offices in different countries worldwide. She emphasizes the need for a comprehensive plan for capacity-building. She said the best way of building capacity is through collaboration.
Another speaker, Roberta Solis, Judicial Integrity team leader of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that what is needed is a better understanding of the role of the media by the judiciary as an actor to foster the rule of law. If the media understands court procedures better it can better report those cases. And if judiciaries better understands the needs of journalists this will lead to better understanding of how the attacks against journalists occur which can help capacity to adjudicate such cases. It is important that the media and judiciary look at each other as allies in this process.
Solis said that some of the attacks journalists face might be similar to attacks judges face (including both online attacks and physical attacks) and such attacks might come from similar sources such as corruption and organized crime groups. Understanding the linkages between these threats could be a powerful tool in addressing the attacks journalists and the rule of law.
Guy Berger, the Director for Freedom of Expression at UNESCO said that journalism is under more assault than ever. He said that norms only work if they have a sustainable institutional underpinning. He stressed the importance of dedicated personnel and budgets.
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