Colombo Declaration: Freedom and Safety of Media in Conflict Situations

We, the participants at SAARC Journalists Summit-IV on ‘Freedom of media in conflict situations’ in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on July 30-31, and August 1, 2008, have agreed to adopt the following Colombo Declaration on Freedom and Safety of Journalists:


Deeply concerned by attacks on the freedom of media and media persons including murder, deliberate attacks, abductions, hostage-taking, harassment, intimidation, illegal arrest and detention and incitement to violence against them due to their professional activities in the conflict zones and beyond in the South Asian region;


Believing that media freedom is inseparable from the fundamental human and civil rights guaranteed by the constitution and enforceable through independent judiciary in a democratic system where both the state and society respect freedoms, show tolerance to dissent and practice pluralism;


Recalling Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right, and confirming that freedom of expression is essential to the realization of other rights set forth in international human rights instruments, and endorsing Resolution 29 entitled “Condemnation of violence against journalists”, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 12 November 1997 that calls on Member States to uphold their obligations to prevent, investigate and punish crimes against journalists,


Endorsing the adoption by the Security Council of the United Nations of Resolution 1738 on 23 December 2006 calling on all parties to an armed conflict to fulfill their obligations towards journalists under international law, including the need to prevent impunity for crimes against them and further requesting the Secretary-General to include as a sub-item in his next reports the issue of the safety and security of media professionals and organisations;


Taking note of hitches and obstacles to transition to full democracy in the countries of the region, such as Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan;


Disturbed over the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and the tribal belt of Pakistan and urging the concerned authorities and security agencies to take appropriate measures against extremism, terrorism and intolerance, avoiding, however, collateral damage to people in general and journalists in particular;


Concerned about the increasing tide of intolerance by state and non-state violent elements against free expression among the member countries of SAARC;


Worried over the conflict situation in Sri Lanka that has seen the most severe condition of human rights violations in the country, just as in the 1980s, the mass media now suffers from the regular assassination, assault and intimidation of media personnel and proprietors while media enterprises have been forced to shut down by means of state-originated restrictions on holding companies or outright bans. While up to fifteen journalists have been assassinated in the past two years, most of them in state-controlled parts of the country, several others have had to seek refuge outside the country. The seeming impunity with which either State-related agencies or politicians and pro-government groups have perpetrated human rights violations draws attention to the increasing collapse of law and order and public security;


Welcoming the extension of the last SAARC Summit’s theme of Connectivity to “Partnership for the people of SAARC” for the 15th SAARC Summit as a leap forward if translated into concrete measures to relax visa regimes and multiple restrictions on free flow of information and goods and unhindered movement of people across our borders;  


Call on Member States of SAARC:

To take both short and long term comprehensive measures to eradicate extremism and violent practices by both state and non-state actors or any other entities against civilians and journalists in particular;


To investigate all acts of violence and intimidation against media professionals in their territory and bring such persons/outfits who have allegedly committed such crimes to justice while compensating for the losses incurred by the victims;


To promote awareness and train their armed forces, intelligence and law enforcing agencies to respect and promote the safety of journalists in situations of risk, and to ensure that journalists are able to work in full security and independence in their territory;


To recommend to multilateral and bilateral institutions of international cooperation and financial assistance that they require from recipient countries as a specific condition of eligibility respect for freedom of expression and effective protection of the exercise of press freedom, also to recommend to these institutions that a state’s failure to comply with its obligation to investigate and punish killers of journalists could be cause for revision, suspension or revocation of such cooperation;


To sign and ratify the Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and other relevant international instruments of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and to take the appropriate legislative, judicial and administrative measures to ensure application of the aforementioned instruments nationally, in so far as they provide protection for civilians, in particular those working in journalism;


To comply with the commitments of UNESCO Resolution 29 to promote legislation with the intention of investigating and prosecuting the killers of journalists and to combat impunity;


To adopt SAFMA’s Protocol on Freedom of Information and implement SAFMA’s Protocol on Free flow of information and movement of journalists across our borders.


Call on the Sri Lankan government:


To swiftly complete the investigations into a number of killings and abductions of journalists that have yet to be resolved if it is to retain credibility of its commitment to stability, public security and democracy; remove all restrictions and stop intimidation of media persons and media outlets.


Call on SAARC and Professional Associations:


To struggle at all levels in stemming and eradicating the tide of intolerance and violence against one section of the people or the other, journalists in particular;


To take resolute action against all expressions of intolerance towards freedom of expression and for the safety of journalists in situations of risk and to ensure respect for their professional independence;


To sensitize news organizations, editors and managers about the dangers surrounding their staff when covering hazardous stories, particularly the dangers present to local journalists;


To urge news associations to develop and sustain safety provisions that work regardless of whether their staff are covering domestic stories such as crime and corruption, disasters and demonstrations or health issues or international armed conflict;


To promote actions that secure the safety of journalists, including, but not limited to, safety training for journalists, safety codes, healthcare and life insurance, and equal access to social protection for free-lance employees and full-time staff;


To coordinate widespread publicity campaigns on unpunished crimes against journalists and other acts of violence to bring about news coverage of all violations of press freedom;


To encourage journalism schools and mass communication departments to include in their curricula studies on the impact that crimes against journalists – and subsequent impunity – have on democratic societies. In addition to promote the inclusion in the curricula of subjects or specific courses on press freedom and to coordinate activities, including safety training, among press freedom associations, news media and journalism schools;


To further encourage collaboration amongst journalists, media owners, educators, press freedom groups and appropriate development agencies, at national and global level, to ensure the inclusion of media development activities in social and economic development programmes;


To act in favour of measures to better ensure application of the rules and principles of a humanitarian nature safeguarding journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict, and to promote the security of the persons concerned;


To work against the emergence of new threats to journalists and media staff, including hostage-taking and kidnapping;


To require that data be submitted to the SAARC Conference in a report on crimes against journalists and the number of cases that continue with impunity;


To sensitize governments regarding the importance of freedom of expression and threat that impunity for crimes against media professionals represents to this freedom;


To recall to member states their legal and moral obligations to comply with UN Resolution 29 and prevent crimes against journalists.


To take concrete remedial measures and remove all hindrances to connectivity, people’s partnerships, people to people contact and free movement of information, goods and people across all our borders.

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