This year’s commemorations of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists are doubly vital as they coincide with the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Plan of Action (UNPA) on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
This year’s commemorations should serve as a reminder of the commitments made under the UNPA to promote a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.
The UNPA covers the fundamental aspects of the safety of journalists, which are prevention, protection, and prosecution. Its assumption is that if journalists are allowed to operate freely and safely, this can strengthen peace, democracy and sustainable development.
However, despite the noble goals of the UNPA, the last few years have witnessed an alarming rise in the number of attacks on journalists and media workers.
In 2020, Mozambican journalist Ibrahimo Mbaruco disappeared, and to date, no one has been held accountable for his disappearance. Tanzanian journalist, Azuro Gwanda, has now been presumed dead. He went missing in 2017.
In Lesotho, journalist Lloyd Mutungamiri, was seriously injured when suspected military hitmen shot him and was transferred to South Africa for medical attention in 2016.
Further, in 2020, journalist Ntsoaki Motaung, was shot by members of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), during a youth protest dubbed #BachaShutDown. In Eswatini, two journalists, Andile Langwenya, and Wonderboy Dlamini, were hospitalised after they were allegedly shot at by security services during protests in 2021.
This has been compounded by the rising hostility against the media across the whole Southern African region.
Countries such as Botswana and South Africa, which were the torchbearers of media freedom and democracy in the region, have experienced sharp declines in press freedom and their rankings on global indices have tumbled remarkably, as is the case with Botswana.
In 2021, Botswana was ranked 38th on the World Press Freedom Index, but this year it fell to 95th, the worst decline for a given country during the past year.
Countries such as Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, also recorded declines.
The growth of new communication technologies also poses new challenges for journalists – particularly female media workers – as attacks online have grown significantly. This raises the need for governments and online platforms to work together to curb this emerging threat that poses an existential threat to freedom of expression and the media.
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the UNPA, it is imperative that we take stock of the successes and the challenges of the past decade and how we can build on these.
We therefore call for a multi-stakeholder approach to ending the issue of impunity, with governments, the judiciary, security arms and the legislature, taking a proactive approach to dealing with the issue of impunity.
We also call upon regional governments to recommit to the UNPA.
In that regard, to end the issue of impunity, we implore regional governments to:
- Engage with journalists, civil society, academia, and inter-governmental organisations on ending the issue of impunity.
- Adopt national frameworks for promoting the safety of journalists.
- The judiciary and security services should play a proactive role in ending the issue of impunity.
MISA Regional Chairperson