UNESCO, African Court Sign MOU to Strengthen Cooperation on Promoting Freedom of Expression

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO
Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in a bid to strengthen their cooperation to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Africa have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) formalizing this corporation.

UNESCO’s association with the Court began when they held an inter-regional dialogue in Arusha, Tanzania, as part of the 2016 commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The dialogue facilitated discussion among African judges on international standards on safety of journalists and ending impunity. It included knowledge sharing on the African human rights framework, the role of inter-regional courts of human rights and ways to promote freedom of expression and journalists safety issues at regional and national levels.

The agreement aims to fit within the framework of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity which will reinforce standards and policies related to access to public information, safety of journalists, ending impunity for crimes against journalists, reinforcing the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Africa.

UNESCO’s Deputy Director General, Xing Qu said: “This agreement is an important one because Africa remains a global priority of UNESCO, and freedom of speech, of communication, and protection of journalists are key elements towards freedom of expression and public access to information.”

The agreement will facilitate capacity building activities such as workshops, training of trainers for judicial training institutes and supports exchanges as well as promote inter-regional cooperation in order to achieve the shared objective of strengthening the regional legal framework and judicial contribution on human rights and in particular freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.

President of the court, Justice Sylvain Oré, explained that the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding is the fruit of previous successful collaborations between UNESCO and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and building on these efforts is critical. “It is very important to train journalists, it’s true, but also the judiciary because the judiciary is indispensable in order to end impunity,” he said.

UNESCO’s ongoing work will also strengthen the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in particular SDG 16 for “Peace, justice and strong institutions”.

The partnership between UNESCO  and the African Court in the past has led to a training of members of the judiciary (judges, legal officers, lawyers) in Africa on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in 2017. The project included seminars and the first ever African Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on the subject.

Judges from 13 different countries, as well as from the ECOWAS Court of Justice, attended the seminars, which focused on enhancing the knowledge and understanding of judges on international and regional frameworks concerning freedom of expression and the safety of journalists. Nearly 900 participants, from 42 African countries, participated in the MOOC to acquaint themselves on freedom of expression issues, through content tailored to fit the African context. This MOOC was based on a similar course launched in Latin America, where more than 7,500 judges and legal professionals were trained since 2013.