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UNESCO celebrates the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

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05 November 2018
UNESCO celebrates the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists
Under the patronage of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and in partnership with the Ministry of Information, UNESCO organized on 2 November 2018 a regional seminar on "Strengthening regional cooperation to end impunity for crimes and attacks against journalists in the Arab world", at Coral Beach Hotel in Beirut.
The seminar, held on the occasion of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, brought together more than 150 participants including journalists, human rights activists, representatives of judicial systems, NGOs, international organizations, representatives of Arab journalists’ syndicates, national human rights commissions, the media and civil society members from across the Arab region.

The seminar aimed at reinforcing cooperation among actors and stakeholders throughout the region, deepening and sharing experiences, and identifying steps ahead and concrete measures to strengthen the fight against impunity for crimes and attacks against journalists in the Arab region.

Opening statements

In his welcome remarks, Dr Hamed al Hammami, director of UNESCO Beirut, said: “Our meeting is held at a time where the Arab region is suffering from crises, destruction, and loss of lives, including the lives of journalists while performing their duty of conveying the truth to the world. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of crimes and attacks against journalists often enjoy impunity”. Al Hammami spoke of UNESCO’s role in fighting impunity and protecting journalists: “The safety of journalists is one of the main priorities of UNESCO, especially its communication and information sector. UNESCO has worked on an action plan for the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity that was adopted by the UN Executive Board in 2012. Efforts are being made with all partners to put this action plan into practice, at the international, regional and local levels. Much has been achieved in terms of awareness raising, capacity building and working with the competent authorities such as the judiciary and the security forces to fight impunity for crimes and attacks against journalists. The declaration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists in 2013 came to create a momentum and to provide support for all stakeholders to promote and protect freedom of expression and the safety of journalists”.

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Moez Chakchouk, Assistant Director-General of the Communication and Information Sector at UNESCO, said: “We are gathered here today in Lebanon, a country which has not been immune to the violence and wars that have struck the region, to pay tribute to the journalists killed in the line of duty and to build momentum to bring justice for them. We all agree that journalists should be able to carry out their duties safely and without fear. Yet, the level of impunity for crimes against them remains terribly high, with fewer than one out of nine cases brought to justice”. He added: “The ability to access information and share it freely is at the cornerstone of democracy. Impunity for crimes and attacks against journalists damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime”.

Mr Chakchouk spoke of UNESCO’s initiatives to fight impunity for crimes against journalists and to change the situation on the ground for journalists: “Within the Arab region, UNESCO has worked since 2015 in Jordan with lawyers and journalists to reinforce professional legal skills in support of media-related cases. The Organization has also supported a mechanism within the Tunisian Journalists Union to monitor attacks against journalists. In Lebanon, UNESCO and the Directorate of Higher Education launched last year a model course on the safety of journalists for journalism students, which has been adopted by several universities in Lebanon, Palestine and Syria and will be expanded to other universities teaching journalism in the future. Since 2017, UNESCO and its partners have worked with law enforcement agencies in Palestine to provide trainings highlighting the importance of establishing professional relations with journalists and of ensuring their safety”.

Mr Chakchouk emphasized the importance of this regional seminar: “This seminar, which represents a continuation of a series of seminars UNESCO organized at the regional level, is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the capacities of all stakeholders involved in protecting journalists, share good practices and step up our efforts to fight impunity. By bringing together media professionals, public authorities, civil society and other stakeholders to call for justice, we aim to ensure the safety of journalists and to fight impunity” .

Then, Minister of Information Melhem Riachi representing His Excellency Prime Minister Saad Hariri, said in his speech: “The Arab world is rich in resources, yet it lacks development and progress because it lacks freedom. In my name and in the name of Prime Minister Hariri, I want to raise the level of confrontation in our defense of the media and journalists to the level of confrontation of chemical weapons. When chemical weapons are used, all countries in the world go on the defense and confront those who use them. The use of violence against the media is like the use of chemical weapons against the people. This issue of impunity for crimes against journalists should be transferred from UNESCO to the United Nations Security Council, to defend the media at the highest level and prevent the impunity of those who commit violence or kill them.” He continued: “The media is the court of public opinion and it seems that many regimes and many countries fear this court so they try to kill it” Minister Riachi concluded: “On behalf of the Prime Minister, I would like to pay tribute to the martyrs of the press in the Arab world and in Lebanon sepcifically, in particular Gibran Tueini, Samir Kassir and the “living martyr” May Chidiac”.

Sessions

The regional seminar included four sessions that covered all aspects of the issue of impunity for crimes against journalists.

The first session, titled “Journalists, from witnesses to victims in times of conflict”, and moderated by Mr. Rabih El Chaer, Head of the Public International Law Group Alem & Associates, provided an overview of the situation in the Arab world regarding crimes and attacks against journalists as well as the issue of impunity. It included introductory remarks by Ms. Albana Shala, Chairperson of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication panel (IPDC), and interventions from Mr. Sultan bin Hassan Al Jamali, Executive Director of the Arab Network for National Human Rights Institutions (ANNHRI); Ms. Abeer Saady, Vice President of The International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)/ Dortmund University; Ms. Hala Kodmani, French-Syrian journalist at Libération; and Mr. Kamel Labidi, president of Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State NGO in Tunisia.

The second session, titled “Fighting impunity in Lebanon: review of challenges and achievements”, was moderated by Ms. Gisele Khoury, journalist and president of the Samir Kassir Foundation. It discussed the challenges and achievements in fighting impunity in Lebanon and provided an overview of national protection and monitoring mechanisms, which are in place or should be established to fight impunity. It featured interventions from Mr. Ghassan Mekheiber, lawyer and former Member of Parliament, Mr. George Ghali, Executive Director of ALEF Act for Human Rights NGO, and Colonel Joseph Moussallim from the Ministry of Interior.

The third session on “Enabling justice in conflict zones, now and tomorrow”, examined the means to deliver justice for killed journalists, both now and in the future. It was moderated by Ms. Leila Molana-Allen, France Media Monde regional correspondent, and included interventions from Major General Saad Maan, spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior and member of the committee for Ending Impunity against Journalists in Iraq; Ms. Lama Fakih, deputy director of Human Rights Watch MENA division; Mr. Mazen Shaqoura Deputy Director Regional office of OHCHR Beirut; and Mr. Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The last session discussed the way forward, including prevention, raising awareness and reinforcing capacities to fight impunity for crimes against journalists in the Arab world. It was moderated by Ms. Diana Moukalled, journalist and writer, and included interventions from Ms. Sylvie Coudray, Chief of Section for Freedom of Expression, UNESCO; Mr. Khalid Khlaifat, lawyer and manager of the Rights Group for Law and Studies in Jordan Mr. Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy; Mr. Zied Dabbar, Head of the monitoring unit on protection of journalists, at the Tunisian Journalists Union (SNJT); Mr. Khalid Ibrahim, Executive Director of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR); Mr. Nasser Abubaker, President of Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and Mr. Hadi al-Khatib, founder and director of The Syrian Archive.

Recommendations

These conclusions and recommendations were agreed upon by the participants at the conference:

-Encouraging the adoption of deterrent legislation for criminal acts against journalists

-Calling upon international organizations to organize a greater number of conferences on the issue of impunity for crimes against journalists and to follow up the recommendations emanating from these conferences

-Encouraging and supporting media institutions in developing policies and rules to guarantee the safety of journalists

-Encouraging media institutions to create means to guarantee the safety of freelancer journalists

-Advocating for a legal environment in Lebanon that is favorable for investigative journalism and that ensures the safety of investigative journalists

-Urging Member States to put in place specialized prosecution to investigate cases of attacks and crimes against journalists

-Pushing media institutions to take all necessary measures to protect journalists working in conflict zones

-Advocating for a reconsideration of defamation laws that may be used to prosecute journalists, thus undermining freedom of expression

-Pushing for the implementation of the UN Action Plan for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

The International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists (IDEI) is commemorated on 2 November every year, since its proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163 as part of its 68th session in 2013.

According to UNESCO data, of the 1,010 journalists killed from 2006 to 2017, only one case out of nine has been judicially resolved. The Arab region accounts for the highest number of journalist killings, with 338 killed between 2006 and 2017. With only 1.5% of crimes against journalists in the region resolved, the Arab region also accounts for the highest impunity rate among the different regions of the world. This situation imposes a climate of fear in the region, not only for media professionals but also for all members of society, to the detriment of the free circulation of information and citizens’ expression of opinions and ideas.