As the lead agency to support the implementation of United Nations Plan of Action (UNPA) on the safety of journalists and issue of impunity, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a multi-stakeholder consultation in collaboration with National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) of Pakistan, parliamentarians Commission for Human Rights and Peace and justice Network under its Multi-Donor Program On Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists. The UNPA calls for awareness raising, monitoring and reporting, capacity building, research, coalition building and policy making by engaging a diverse group of stakeholders including media, civil society, academia, along with state institutions, political leadership, UN agencies and international organizations.
The consultation shed light on enhancing coordination among UN agencies such as Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR), and other relevant UN agencies in seeking the implementation of UN Plan of Action. The meeting unanimously agreed to promote the normative framework, and UN human rights instruments, to keep the issue high on the national agenda. The Ambassador of Sweden in Pakistan Ms. Ingrid Johansson, Human Rights Officer Ms. Christine Chung from OHCHR, Mr. Chaudry Muhammad Shafique representing the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), and other esteemed guests from the government of Pakistan participated in the consultation.
UNESCO Representative in Pakistan Ms. Vibeke Jensen acknowledged government’s efforts especially NCHR in recognizing the importance of freedom of expression and taking lead on United Nations Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and Issue of Impunity in Pakistan. Ms. Vibeke Jensen, called upon the stakeholders to use avenues that have not been fully explored such as academic research, capacity building of judiciary on legal framework on freedom of expression, and mechanisms to tackle online risks.
While recognizing the importance of safety of journalists, Human Rights officer Ms. Chung reiterated that journalists are exposed to all kinds of threats including online threats these days. She emphasized that states remain the number one duty bearer in ensuring a safe environment for media and therefore called for increased efforts to live up to their international obligation. She shared that the UN, in particular OHCHR is working on quantifying the problem thereby contributing to SDG16.10.1. reporting globally.
Mr. Chaudhary Muhammad Shafique elaborated on the pressure and risks faced by Pakistani journalists in performing their duties. He also highlighted that it is the government’s responsibility to take a lead on creating an environment for protection and safety of journalists in the country. He stated that currently the ownership of the issue is fragmented among relevant ministries.
The round table consultation also formulated working groups including international organizations, civil society, government facilitated by representative from Prime Minister’s Office – SDGs Unit, media and academia. The avenues available to advance the safety of journalists, such as the Human Rights Council (HRC), the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Special Procedures and human rights treaty bodies, and the development of SDG indicator 16.10.1 to enhance accountability were discussed at length. A need was identified to increase the coordination among the relevant government departments as well as UN agencies to address the issue of safety of journalists.
H.E. Ambassador of Sweden in Pakistan Ms. Ingrid Johansson concluded the consultation by reiterating that freedom of expression is a global issue and Sweden is at the forefront in supporting various countries including Pakistan in addressing various issues encompassing the freedom of expression. She further highlighted that freedom of expression and access to information play a vital role in creating trust in a society.
The consultation ended with a call for enhancing efforts to respond to new challenges to independent journalism.