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.
On this occasion the Commission notes with regret the exponentially increasing complicity of States Parties in the continent-wide attacks on journalists. The Commission has received with concern, a plethora of reports regarding varying attacks on journalists including acts of violence, abduction, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killing.
The Commission also notes with concern the trend of criminalization of journalism through the adoption of repressive censorship laws as well as the use of Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP suits). The Commission also notes the use of surveillance technology including those powered by Artificial Intelligence in monitoring activities of journalists and illicitly uncovering their sources on the supposed basis of preserving National Security.
The Commission also takes note of the role of State Parties in perpetuating attacks on journalists either through their inaction to prevent and prosecute perpetrators of such attacks, or through their direct participation in crimes against journalists. The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists provides a unique opportunity to once again refresh States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) on their obligations under Article 1 of the African Charter, which are to recognize the rights, duties and freedoms enshrined in this Charter and to adopt legislative or other measures to give effect to them.
The Commission recalls that Governments have a duty to protect journalists, not only through appropriate legislation and effective enforcement, but also by protecting them from damaging acts that may be perpetrated by private parties. Thus, an act by a private individual and therefore not directly imputable to a State, can generate responsibility of the State, not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or for not taking the necessary steps to provide the victim with reparation.
Accordingly, the Commission wishes to reiterate the contents of Principle 20(4) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (2019). 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.
In view of the foregoing, the Commission, through the Special Rapporteur, calls on States Parties to the African Charter to:
1.Consistently investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies;
2.Review existing and proposed legislation designed to criminalize journalism by censoring reporting on certain issues and imposing harsh criminal penalties;
3.Abandon SLAPP suits and desist from weaponizing the judiciary to perpetuate attacks against journalists;
4.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;
5.Promote the eradication of impunity for crimes against journalists including by perpetuating a positive narrative on journalists amongst law enforcement agencies and the public at large.
Banjul, 02 November 2023