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JOINT ACTION: World Press Freedom Day conference concludes with commitment to tackle impunity, repressive media laws

Representatives from 11 countries in Eastern Africa have resolved to carry out a campaign against repressive media laws and the culture of impunity in the region.

(Media Institute/NUSOJ/IFEX) - Leaders and representatives of journalists' trade unions, associations and press freedom organizations from 11 countries in Eastern Africa have resolved to carry out an effective and collective campaign against repressive media laws and the culture of impunity against journalists and the media as well as to collaborate to address working conditions of media professionals in the region to enhance quality and ethical journalism.

The journalists and free expression advocates met from 2-3 May 2009 in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, under the theme ?Media, Dialogue, Mutual Understanding and Reconciliation? to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Participants drew up the Kigali Declaration to guide their actions and address the current challenges to free expression in the region.

"We . . . (are) extremely concerned about the great individual risks and dangers journalists in eastern Africa face, including cruel and degrading punishments, torture, intimidation, death threats, imprisonment, abductions, arbitrary arrests, killings and unlawful detention," read the declaration.

The conference was organized by the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA) and supported by UNESCO, the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), and the Open Society Institute with the active participation of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Participants expressed concern that media professionals in the region were being subjected to actions that discredit them such as smear campaigns, political persecution, vilification and constant surveillance.

In the Declaration, the journalists called on governments in the region, which is considered to be the most dangerous in Africa for media professionals, to put in place legal and policy guarantees to ensure the safety and security of journalists and media establishments, to support the work of journalist unions and press freedom organizations in protecting media professionals, and to develop a climate of respect for the work of the media.

The conference, which was officially opened by the Rwandan information minister, Honorable Louise Mushikiwabo, also urged the governments in Eastern Africa to pay particular attention to the situation of media freedom in their respective countries and to support the efforts of the media community in the promotion and protection of press freedom and freedom of expression. The conference participants decided to aggressively carry out the following actions:

1. Campaign against the culture of impunity in the media industry
2. Campaign on reforming repressive media laws and other restrictive legislations
3. Campaign on ethical journalism and regional collective bargaining standards

The participants of the conference also appealed to the governments in Eastern Africa to vigorously implement commitments to freedom of expression through a legal and regulatory environment that respects press freedom and independence, and to enable media diversity.

The conference, which brought together 34 participants from Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Comoros and Seychelles, resolved to provide first-hand assistance in collaboration with regional and international organizations and protection for journalists at immediate risk, and to promote the role of the media as a platform for dialogue, reconciliation and mutual understanding. The Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) hosted the conference.

Media Institute
National Union of Somali Journalists

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