During a recent meeting in Qatar, the implementation strategy of the UN Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was outlined by a UN official.
The UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity came under the spotlight at an event to mark International Human Rights Day this week, where journalists and media organisations came together to discuss the coverage of issues related to human rights and some of the major challenges to freedom of expression in the region and around the world.
Lim Ming Kuok, assistant programmes specialist for the communications and information sector of UNESCO outlined the plan and discussed how it has been implemented in a number of the countries identified by UNESCO as focus areas for its launch.
“The core principle of the plan of action is the multi stakeholder approach,” he said, explaining that the plan has been formulated to ensure that organisations can put an end to “silo” projects and work together to deal with a problem which affects the whole of society.
Aimed at entrenching the concepts of media freedom and freedom of expression within a country, and granting the stakeholders within that country ownership of the means of defending journalists, the plan is based around five principles: strengthening UN mechanisms, cooperating with member states, partnering with other organisations and institutions, raising awareness and fostering safety initiatives.
“This is a very complex problem which cannot be solved by one organisation alone, but will require the cooperation of many organisations and institutions,” he said, explaining that it was not a question of UNESCO entering a nation and dictating how they should work to improve the safety of journalists, but of offering advice and fostering the development of national strategies towards this aim.
“Points of entry”
The plan has an implementation strategy, and Lim explained that there are more than 120 concrete actions which can be employed in the implementation process, which have been and will continue to be introduced throughout 2013 and 2014.
He outlined a list of “points of entry” such as recommending legislation, helping to enforce existing legislation, training journalists, providing funding for journalists in danger, providing a network of lawyers for media professionals and developing training materials and curricula.
The issue of gender-sensitive reporting, which was highlighted during UNESCO’s recent Global Forum on Media and Gender, is also an area of interest which can be worked on, with recommendations for improving gender equality and fostering the development of a more gender-equal media representing areas in which UNESCO can contribute to the implementation of the plan.
Progress in target countries
Lim went on to describe how the plan has been implemented in target countries, Nepal, Pakistan, South Sudan and Iraq, as well as Latin America.
In Pakistan, a national consultative meeting group drafted a national plan of action in June 2012, and created a steering committee earlier this year. It will also become the first country to roll out the Journalists’ Safety Indicators (JSI), a system for assessing the level of safety of journalists in the country which will serve as a basis for assessment in the future
Similarly, a working group in South Sudan is working on drafting a national plan of action to be implemented in the coming years.
In Nepal, the National Human Rights Commission has been identified as the organisation through which journalists’ safety will be addressed. Lim explained that over $500,000 of funding through the UN Peace Fund for Nepal will assist training and other needs to help protect journalists in the future.
Work in Iraq has proven a little more challenging as a result of issues related to human resources as well as other problems which have delayed the effective rollout of the plan. However, a working group meeting is planned for early 2014 to establish the way forward for the plan.
In Brazil, the UN has taken a new approach to the issue at hand and is currently training judges on matters related to the safety of journalists. “There is a need to update the understanding of the safety of journalists,” he said, adding that when a journalist has been targeted it is essential that justice is served in the long run.
Aspects of the plan have also been implemented in other countries, such as Tunisia where a security manual has been introduced, and Honduras and Guatemala where the JSI’s are being rolled out.
Safety and Impunity in the future
Lim explained that for 2015, “targets are a reduction in the unsolved killing of journalists, increased awareness of the issue, better legislation for the protection of journalists and an increase in access to safety training and other resources.”
He also highlighted the role that the media have to play in raising awareness, demanding justice and holding organisations (including UNESCO and its implementation of the plan) to account.
“We hope that the media will create awareness of the issue, and will keep us honest,” he said, adding “we want them to report on the progress or the non-progress of the plan.”
However, the plan is a relatively small aspect of the question at hand. Rather than solving problems in countries around the world, it intends to put the issue on the national agenda and ensure that government’s can no longer ignore the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.
“The plan will come and go, but the issue of the safety of journalists will never disappear,” noted Lim, adding “that is why this issue has to be entrenched in every society around the world.”