UNESCO, Police Association to Train Police Worldwide on Journalists’ Safety, Media Freedom

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Audrey Azoulay
Director-General, UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Police Association (IPA) have announced a new partnership to build skills among police and security personnel in upholding freedom of expression and protecting journalist safety under which they will launch a global Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for police personnel around the world.

The project is being implemented within the framework of the “UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity” with financial support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, through the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC).

According to UNESCO, a 2020 study it conducted in 65 countries showed a sharp rise in violations of press freedom during protests, including harassment, intimidation, attacks, arrests and killings of journalists, often carried out by police and security forces.

It said a lack of police training on how to maintain order while enabling journalists to do their job is considered a major contributor to the problem.

UNESCO noted that it has already trained 8,500 police personnel in 17 countries in Latin America, Africa and the Arab region through local partnerships, adding that the work will be expanded and accelerated through the new agreement with the IPA, which has 372,000 members in nearly 100 countries.

Explaining the rationale for the project, UNESCO’s Director-General, Ms Audrey Azoulay, said: “Police and security forces are critical duty bearers in ensuring that journalists are able to do their jobs safely and that any violations against press freedom are investigated and punished in accordance with the law. Through this partnership with the International Police Association, UNESCO will expand its global programme to protect journalists and fight the longstanding impunity for crimes against journalists.”

Speaking in a similar vein, Ms May-Britt Ronnebro, Secretary-General of the IPA said the association was “very pleased to join efforts with UNESCO to ensure that security forces are aware of their vital role in protecting journalists and in ensuring a safe environment conducive to freedom of expression” adding that “Good, transparent communication with the media will also improve the public image of the police services.”

The MOOC will comprise a series of free online courses and is based on the “UNESCO Training Manual on Freedom of Expression and Public Order”. 

The course is aimed at the police, security forces and law enforcement agencies, including trainers of police officers, gendarmerie, emergency preparedness, security and police trainees, intelligence officers, riot police, spokespersons of police and investigators.

According to UNESCO, both the MOOC and a global training of trainers will be designed and delivered by IBZ Castle Gimborn, the training and educational facility of the International Police Association, in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany.

UNESCO said in the light of its data, which shows that almost nine out of 10 journalist killings worldwide in recent years remain unresolved, the UNESCO and IPA training initiative will also encourage the police to pursue investigations to ensure that those responsible for these crimes are identified and prosecuted.

It explained that to implement the training, it will draw from its long experience of training judges, who also play a critical role in the protection of freedom of expression, freedom of press and access to information.

UNESCO said since 2013, the Organization and its partners have trained 23,000 judges, judicial actors and civil society representatives from around the world on international standards around these issues.