African Commission Calls on State Parties to Take Appropriate Steps to Address Attacks on Journalists

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The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has called on African Union Member States to take appropriate steps to address attacks on journalists including by adopting effective legal and other measures to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and other media practitioners, and ensuring that victims have access to effective remedies.

The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Honorable Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo made the call on behalf of the Commission in a press statement issued on November 2, 2022 as she joined the world in commemorating the International Day to End Impunity for crimes against journalists (IDEI).

Commissioner Topsy-Sonoo observed 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, pointing out that 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.

The Commission observed that failure to protect journalists especially in the face of a shrinking civic space inevitably causes self-censorship as well as the exile of African journalists. It expressed concern over the fact that whilst laws criminalising journalistic work are proliferating, there is no corresponding enforcement of laws meant to protect journalists.

It noted with concern the increasing trend of crimes against journalists going unpunished saying it has been brought to the attention of the Commission that despite violent and in some instances, fatal attacks on journalists, such matters go uninvestigated and the perpetrators escape sanctions.

Commissioner Topsy-Sonoo stated that these crimes go unpunished and therefore there is no accountability by the perpetrators. She pointed out that reports have it 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 noted that most crimes which go unpunished are committed against journalists whose reports are critical of existing governments and report on corruption, state capture and the violation of the Constitution.

The Commission recalled the rule reiterated in Communication 245/02: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum v Zimbabwe which states 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.

She added that States Parties are enjoined to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the harmful acts of others and 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. She emphasized that 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.

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 called on State Parties to comply with the provisions of Article 9 as read with Article 1 of the Charter.