United Nations adopts plan of action to improve safety of journalists

NEW DELHI: More than 500 professionals have been killed in the course of their duties over the past decade. Many more have been assaulted, abducted, sexually violated, intimidated, harassed, arrested or illegally detained. The vast majority of these crimes did not concern international war correspondents but journalists working in their home countries, often in times of peace, and covering local stories. The instigators for the most part, remain unpunished.

Concerned with this data, a coordinated inter-agency mechanism is in the process of being established to handle issues connected to the safety of journalists and impunity which will involve monitoring of progress at both national and international levels.

Safety and impunity are also to be incorporated into United Nations contributions to national strategy, notably development assistance programmes and the possible inclusion of media stake holders in some of the preparatory processes of the UN's development projects.

The decision was taken at a meeting of representatives of UN agencies, programmes and funds meeting at UNESCO in Paris which drafted an Action Plan to improve the safety of journalists and combat impunity of crimes against them.

The Draft Action Plan was prepared at the meeting held on 13 and 14 September under the chairmanship of Information and Broadcasting Ministry Secretary Raghu Menon, who is Chairperson of the Impunity to Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova; UN Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka; UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank la Rue, and representatives of leading freedom of expression and press freedom organisations also attended the two-day meeting.

The meeting was endorsed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who addressed the participants at the start of session.

The Draft also foresees the extension of work already conducted by UNESCO to prevent crimes against media workers. This notably includes assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information, and by supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles, especially the 1997 UNESCO General Conference Resolution concerning violence against journalists. This stipulates that there should be no statute of limitations on crimes against freedom of expression.

To further reinforce prevention, awareness raising campaigns will also be conducted with member states, civil society, non-governmental organisations and concerned bodies about issues of freedom of expression, journalists' safety and the danger of Impunity to Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) at its next session in March 2012 and will then be submitted to the bodies in charge of UN-wide coordination.

UNESCO is the UN agency mandated to "promote the free flow of ideas by word and image", with the aim of establishing a coordinated, UN system-wide approach to preventing and combating these crimes.

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