AFEX Urges African Commission to Adopt Instrument requiring African Countries to Establish Mechanisms on Journalists’ Safety

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Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Chair AFEX Steering Committee / MRA’s Executive Director

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), a network of 14 media freedom and freedom of expression organizations in Africa, has called on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to develop and adopt an instrument requiring Member States of the African Union to establish in their respective countries multi-stakeholder National Mechanisms on the Safety of Journalists to curtail the widespread incidents of attacks on journalists and other media workers across the continent by various actors.

The call was contained in a statement submitted on behalf of AFEX by the Chairperson of its Steering Committee, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, who is also the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) to the Commission at its 77th Ordinary Session which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, from October 20 to November 9, 2023.

Mr. Ojo told the Commission: “In my capacity as the head of a member organization of AFEX and the chairperson of the AFEX steering committee, I would like to express our deep concern with the widespread incidents of attacks on journalists and other media workers, including female journalists, across the continent by governments, law enforcement, security, military, and intelligence officials as well as non-state actors, such as criminals.”

He commended the Commission for various steps taken so far to ensure the Safety of Journalists, including the adoption of Resolution 468 on the Safety of Journalists and Media Practitioners in Africa, by the Commission on December 3, 2020, wherein it called on AU Member States to “Investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, ensure that victims have access to effective remedies and take specific measures to ensure the safety of female journalists and media practitioners by addressing gender-specific safety concerns”.

Mr. Ojo said AFEX also notes with appreciation the Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, which it adopted in November 2019 at its 65th Ordinary Session held in Banjul, The Gambia, particularly Principle 20 of the Declaration which is titled “Safety of Journalists and Other Media Practitioners”.

According to him, Principle 20 requires States to take measures to prevent attacks on journalists and other media practitioners, including murder, extra-judicial killing, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, enforced disappearance, kidnapping, intimidation, threats and unlawful surveillance undertaken by State and non-State actors; to raise awareness and build the capacities of journalists and other media practitioners, policy makers and other stakeholders on laws and standards for ensuring the safety of journalists and other media practitioners; and 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.

He, however, expressed regrets that the provisions have not been very effective in addressing the challenge of ensuring the safety of journalists as they are largely not being complied with, adding that it is the view of AFEX that more work needs to be done to advance the issue of the safety of journalists and to give practical effect to these and other relevant instruments.

Mr. Ojo therefore urged the Commission to consider and explore the possibility of developing and adopting an instrument requiring AU Member States to establish in their respective countries multi-stakeholder National Mechanisms on the Safety of Journalists, explaining that “Such an instrument should also provide guidance on the composition, functions, powers, processes for establishing the mechanism and other operational matters.” 

He suggested that the State Reporting Procedure and mechanism of the Commission could then be utilized in assessing compliance by Member States with the requirement to establish national mechanisms on the safety of journalists.

Mr. Ojo expressed the willingness and readiness of AFEX and its members to work with the Commission to develop such an instrument, including by assisting in undertaking research and studies to identify good practices in other African countries that have already established such National Mechanisms, as well as in other countries around the world.