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UN Action Plan for Pakistan seeks to promote a collaborative approach
By Phyza Jameel

The Committee to Protect Journalists in 2012 named 12 countries — including Pakistan, Iraq, Russia, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Mexico — in its annual “impunity index” because they allow deadly violence against the press to go unpunished, calling for a global agenda to shape up around the growing concern of nations around the globe to address this problem collectively.

A pressing need has emerged for the United Nations to develop a single, strategic and harmonised approach in order to have a greater impact on this issue recognising that the killing of journalists impacts the UN system and hampers its efforts made towards development and human rights. In recognition of this background, on April 13, 2012, the UN Chief Executives Board endorsed the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, with the objective of “working towards the creation of a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide.” Pakistan is one of the five pilot countries where this Plan will be implemented.

UNESCO as the specialised UN agency mandated to promote freedom of expression at large initiated the process of UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity in 2010 when the Intergovernmental Council of the International Program for the Development of Communication (IPDC) requested Director-General UNESCO to consult with member states on the feasibility of convening an inter-agency meeting of all the relevant UN agencies.

Consequently, the first UN Inter-Agency Meeting on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity took place in Paris in September 2011. Representatives of UN agencies, programmes and funds as well as international and regional institutions, professional organisations, NGOs and member states met and drafted an Action Plan to improve the safety of journalists and combat impunity, providing recommendations to the UN family on the draft Plan.

The measures in the UN Plan include, among others, establishing a coordinated inter-agency mechanism to handle issues related to the safety of journalists as well as involving other intergovernmental organisations at international and regional levels to encourage the incorporation of media development programmes focusing on journalists’ safety within their respective strategies.

The Plan also foresees the extension of work already conducted by UNESCO to prevent crimes against media workers. This includes assisting countries to develop legislation and mechanisms favourable to freedom of expression and information and by supporting their efforts to implement existing international rules and principles.

Pakistan due to its credentials is one of the pilot countries for the forthcoming implementation of strategy to combat the issues of impunity against journalists. On November 5, 2012, the Islamabad Declaration on Safety of Journalists was adopted by members of parliament, Human Rights Commission, media workers, journalists and Press Clubs from all over the country, with special representation from areas of conflict, to demand collective and coordinated action from all stakeholders to stop the killing and harassment of journalists and end impunity.

Based on the adopted declaration, a Pakistan specific draft implementation strategy was proposed at the second UN Inter-Agency meeting held in November 2012 in Vienna, identifying the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. The purpose of the meeting was to formulate a concrete UN Implementation Strategy on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity for 2013-2014. This means putting in place a framework of actions to be taken during the next two years in Pakistan.

The upcoming UN Action Plan for Pakistan seeks to promote a collaborative approach to protecting journalists as a common value and shared ownership among policymakers, media owners, regulatory bodies, press clubs, civil society and last but not least journalist’s themselves to practice their right of speech with freedom and security.

Phyza Jameel manages the Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Division of the Communications and Information Sector at UNESCO Islamabad

Originally published in The News on Sunday on 9th December 2012. 

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