The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Honorable Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo joins the world in commemorating the International day to end impunity for crimes against journalists, which is observed on 2 November. This day came to be recognized through Resolution 68/163 of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) which unequivocally condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers and calls for States to ensure accountability through the conduct of impartial, speedy and effective investigations in cases of attacks, violence or death against journalists and media workers.
The Commission observes that failure to protect journalists especially in the face of a shrinking civic space inevitably causes self-censorship as well the exile of African journalists. Of particular concern to the Commission is that whilst laws criminalising journalistic work are proliferating, there is no corresponding enforcement of laws meant to protect journalists. On this year’s commemoration of this day, the Commission notes with concern the increasing trend of crimes against journalists going unpunished. It has been brought to the attention of the Commission that despite violent and in some instances, fatal attacks on journalists, matters go uninvestigated and the perpetrators escape any sanctions. These crimes go unpunished and therefore there is no accountability by the perpetrators. It has also been reported that the majority of these matters relate to attacks by State Agents or private parties acting with the approval of the State. The Commission further notes that most crimes which go unpunished are committed against journalists that are critical of existing governments and report on corruption, state capture and the violation of the Constitution.
On this occasion, the Commission recalls the age-observed rule reiterated in Communication 245/02: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v Zimbabwe that under the Charter, State Parties bear both positive and negative legal obligations and are therefore liable for human rights violations arising from actions and omissions of public authorities. States Parties are enjoined to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the harmful acts of others. It should be further noted that an act by a private individual can generate responsibility of the State, not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence. State Parties are therefore obliged to carry out serious investigations on violations committed within its jurisdiction, to identify those responsible, to impose appropriate punishment and to ensure the victim receives adequate compensation.
Furthermore, the Commission wishes to reiterate the contents of Principle 20 (4) of the 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa. In this provision State Parties are enjoined to take effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.
Therefore recalling Resolution 522 (LXXII) 2022 on the Protection of Women Against Digital Violence in Africa and Resolution 166(XLVII)10 on the Deteriorating Situation of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the Commission thus calls on State Parties to comply with the provisions of Article 9 as read with Article 1 of the Charter and specifically:
- Investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies;
- Ensure that cases of attacks against journalists that have been pending for prolonged periods of time are handled fairly and effectively;
- Desist from weaponizing law enforcement and the judiciary against journalists by limiting their access to justice in cases where they have been victims of attacks;
- Ensure that any law enforcement officials responsible for prolonged delays or ineffective service in cases relating to attacks against journalists are identified and punished accordingly
- Promote the eradication of impunity for crimes against journalists including by perpetuating a positive narrative on journalists amongst law enforcement and the public at large
Hon. Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo
Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa