A Pan-African Conference on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information was concluded in the Ugandan Capital Kampala with the attendance of 50 African freedom expression of advocates of journalists, human rights defenders and trade unionists, with the backing of the European Union (EU) and African Union (AU).
The conference which was held on 25-26 March 2017 was organised to take stock of the state of freedom of expression and access to information in Africa and the achievements made in implementing the relevant African Union instruments.
In declaration adopted at the end, African Freedom of Expression Advocates have called African governments “to bring an immediate end to all forms of harassment, intimidation and attacks on journalists and advocates of freedom of online and offline expression”.
The conference, which was organised by AU and EU Joint Civil Society Steering Committee on Human Rights and Democratic Governance, asked African governments “to initiate thorough, impartial and effective investigations into killings of journalists to tackle impunity for crimes committed against journalists” and “to adopt policy and legal measures to guarantee, respect and protect citizens’ right to information and freedom of expression through access to affordable Internet services”.
“We have good African legal instruments that guarantee and protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information but our problem is the empty talk of governments with regard to implementation and domestication of these instruments. Violence against journalists with impunity is on the rise and constitutes the severest way to curtail free expression and we see this trend increasing,” said Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists who is the African Co-Chair of AU and EU Joint Civil Society Steering Committee on Human Rights and Democratic Governance.
Free expression advocates noted with serious concern that there is still a gap between policy pronouncements on protection of freedom of expression and practice on the ground. Cases of violence, attacks, harassment and undue prosecution of journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders are on the rise.
The adopted declaration stressed that “many African states continue to retain laws that are inimical to their international human rights obligations. These have resulted in shrinking civic space, recession in democratic practice and a high number of journalists and human rights activists/defenders who have been killed or forced into exile. The growing democratic deficit has caused continued and growing state secrecy which has led to an increase in lack of trust in public institutions.”
The conference was held organised 25 years after Windhoek Declaration on Free Press, which spearheaded development and protection of free press on the continent. In this regard the state of media freedom of the continent was examined and impediments facing the media were extensively discussed.