UNESCO Marks 10th Anniversary of Initiative to Empower Judges on Free Expression

Audrey Azoulay
Director General of the UNESCO

On September 29, 2023, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Judges’ Initiative, a programme operating across more than 160 countries, and has provided training to members of the judiciary, empowering them to uphold regional and international standards on freedom of expression, access to information, and the safety of journalists.

The Judges’ Initiative which commenced in 2013, has played a critical role in educating judicial actors about their responsibilities in safeguarding freedom of expression. By strengthening the knowledge and capacity of judicial actors, UNESCO aims to bolster the rule of law and enhance the justice systems’ ability to protect journalists from attacks and prosecute crimes against them.

Over the past decade, the Initiative has achieved significant milestones and made substantial international impact including training over 35,000 judicial actors and civil society representatives from 160 countries, publishing 12 resources and guidelines, maintaining a valuable global database containing over 2,700 judicial case laws related to freedom of expression, and establishing 11 Memoranda of Understanding with regional human rights courts and judicial institutions.

Additionally, to make education on freedom of expression more accessible, the Judges’ Initiative has launched 10 Free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) freely available to judicial actors, ensuring that knowledge in this critical area is within reach of all interested parties.

While acknowledging the positive assessment, the initiative recognises that there is still much work to be done in safeguarding freedom of expression. It highlights the sobering fact that nearly 100 journalists lose their lives each year in the course of their work, and impunity rates for crimes committed against them remain alarmingly high.

The UNESCO Judges Initiative reaffirms its commitment to supporting the judiciary and safeguarding journalists globally, ensuring their ability to work freely and without fear.