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IPDC Council encourages Member States to augment capacities of national legal institutions in defending Freedom of Expression


A UNESCO committee has adopted a Decision on the Safety of Journalists Decision of Safety of Journalists which encourages Member States to “enhance the capacity of national judicial training institutes, prosecution services and law enforcement agencies”.

The 39 Member States on of the Intergovernmental Council of the International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC) reached their decision on 26 November at their 32nd session.

UNESCO over the past years has intensified its collaboration with Member States and judicial actors to equip them with the necessary skills to boost safety of journalists and fight against impunity for crimes against media workers.

This body of work also comprises a number of Memoranda of Understandings, with international and regional courts such as the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the ECOWAS Court of Justice.

The recent IPDC Decision further urged Member States to “consider the use of UNESCO’s existing knowledge resources in addressing impunity and the safety of journalists, especially addressing the security of journalists covering protests”.

Such knowledge resources include toolkits for the judiciary in Africa and Latin America, a handbook for trainings of security forces and a handbook on fostering the relation between security forces and journalists. In response to rising numbers of journalists injured while covering protests, UNESCO recently published a report on safety of journalists covering protest.

The IPDC Council adopted its Decision in response to the UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalist and the Danger of Impunity.  This is a unique report within the UN system that includes information sourced directly from Member States about statistics on impunity for fatal attacks on journalists and actions taken to support safety of media workers.  

Main findings of the 2020 Director-General’s Report include:

  • 156  journalists were killed worldwide in 2018-1019.
  • Overall, over the past decade, a journalist has been killed on average every four days.
  • Only 13 per cent of cases recorded by UNESCO since 2006, can be considered resolved.
  • More journalists are being killed in countries not currently experiencing conflict.

Several member States during the IPDC session expressed strong appreciation of a video raising awareness on threats against journalists and disseminated along with the Report.  

UNESCO annually requests information from Member States about judicial follow-up of killings of journalists, which goes into the UNESCO Director-General’s Report as well as UNESCO’s online observatory of killed journalists.

This year, the Director-General’s request to Member States was met with an increased reaction rate, after a decrease during the two previous years. Member States expressed appreciation of this increase but also stressed that at a level of 87 per cent of cases remaining unpunished, governments urgently need to bolster internal mechanisms fighting against impunity.

The IPDC Decision also stressed the importance of transparency, encouraging Member States “to  authorize  UNESCO  to  make  the information on judicial follow-up publicly available on the dedicated UNESCO webpage.”

A number of Member States (including Argentina, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania, Netherlands, Russian Federation, Sweden, United Kingdom) during the Council meeting spoke about the seriousness of non-lethal attacks and assaults on journalists, and expressed a desire for the IPDC mechanism to address types of violence beyond killings.

Finally, the Decision urged the Director-General and Member States to increase their efforts in mobilizing additional extra-budgetary funding for UNESCO’s work in the area of safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.

UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC) is the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to discuss and promote media development in developing countries. The Programme not only provides support for media projects but also seeks an accord to secure a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media in developing countries.