Media plays vital role in promoting human rights

‘I have no doubt in my mind of journalists’ commitment to promote human rights in Africa.’

The media has an indispensable role to play for human rights in Africa, underscores the newly elected president of the African Court for Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), saying it is vital for the respect and dignity of the mankind in the continent.

President Justice Sylvian Ore’ said since the adoption of the protocol in 1998, only 30 of the 54 member countries of the African Union have ratified the Court’s protocol as of August 2016.

However, he added, that in addition to the ratification of the protocol, states have to make a declaration required under Article 34 (6) of the protocol to allow NGOs and individuals to bring cases directly before the court. Without such a declaration, the court would have no jurisdiction over cases brought by individuals and NGOs.

As of August 2016, only eight out of the 30 states Parties had signed and deposited the declaration recognising the competence of the court to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

“Therefore, it is the responsibility of journalists for countries to speed up ratification of the Court’s Protocol and other member countries which have not done so”, he told African News Agency (ANA).

“I have no doubts in my mind of journalists’ commitment to promote human rights in Africa, and especially the work of the African Court, which to a large extent, is very much unknown on the continent and thus to our people”.

The court as of August 2016 had received 111 applications and 24 cases have been finalised and it currently has 80 cases pending and four have been forwarded to the Commission.

“In collaborative effort, it is imperative that we take deliberate steps with journalists with a shared vision to support the expedition of commitments made to ensure the effective domestication and implementation of the agreed legal and policy measures,” said Frank La Rue, UNESCO assistant director-general for communication and information.

“This will include the establishment of protection mechanisms with early warning and rapid response system for journalists and media workers.”

The president, nonetheless warned that the power of media can be misused to the extent that the very functioning of democracy is threatened or undermined. Hence journalists must work in the framework of ethical and sheer careful sensationalism that will not cause considerable damage to individuals for any purpose at all.

“It is obvious that freedom of expression – though an absolutely basic human right – is not without limits. What I am underscoring is for ethical journalism— you can contribute to a better society through genuine professionalism.”

He also reminded journalists the tenets of Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which clearly states that every individual shall have the right to receive information.

“We have vivid memories of how media have exposed human rights violations and offered an arena for different voices to be heard in public discourse thus rightly the media is referred as the Fourth Estate,” he said.

The president of the African Court resides and works on a full time basis at the seat of the court, in Arusha, Tanzania, while the other 10 judges work on a part-time basis.

In the accomplishments of his duties, the president assisted by registrar, who performs registry of court cases, managerial and administrative functions of the court.

The wave of abuses in the region since 2014 could be explained in the context of political developments in the countries. Access to information regarding the human rights abuse in countries like Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia in the past two years are only explained through journalistic works and “that must continue”.

“I commend journalists and the media houses for creating an environment that promotes mutual trust between them and the public and largely promotes independent media which abides with professional ethics in the practice of journalism,” he said.

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