Speakers included Mr. Axel Plathe, UNESCO Representative in Iraq, Dr. Athmaar Al-Shatri, Commissioner at the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, Mr. Moayed Al-Lami, head of the Iraqi Journalists’ Syndicate, and Judge Abdul Sattar Bayraktar from the Supreme Judicial Council. Representatives of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, as well as a large number of journalists, journalists and professors also attended.
Mr. Al-Lami pointed out in his opening speech that the theme of the seminar was very important because targeting journalists is a threat to the democratic process, since journalists are important players in laying down the foundations of democracy. He declared that more than 400 journalists have been killed and many others have been forced to travel outside of Iraq to save their lives only because they are conveying the truth and highlighting the suffering of vulnerable people. Mr. Al-Lami extended an invitation to the government and the parliament to maintain the independence of the media bodies, referring to attempts of some powerful government agencies to control those bodies.
Dr. Athmaar Al-Shatri, Commissioner responsible for freedom of expression at the Independent Commission for Human Rights, confirmed through her speech that the safety of journalists is considered a priority because journalists, through their work, are protecting human rights. She added that the Commission recorded more than 66 cases of displacement, murder, kidnapping and assault during 2014; and 14 complaints during 2015 which are in the process of verification. Al-Shatri praised the role played by the United Nations through its work plan, approved in 2012, for the safety of journalists and joint cooperation with UNESCO in this field. She also demanded that Parliament enact relevant laws and amend existing laws, while calling on government agencies to assist in overcoming the obstacles to ensure the human rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Judge Abdul Sattar Bayraktar said the Iraqi judiciary plays its role to prosecute perpetrators of violations against journalists. He gave the example of the death sentence that was passed on the criminal who assassinated journalist Atwar Bahjat, as well as the arrest of a deputy governor because of assaulting a journalist. He added that a special publishing and media issues court had been established.
On his side, Mr. Axel Plathe of UNESCO said that this occasion should remind us of our responsibility with rising sectarian tensions and violence, which increases the risk to Iraqi journalists who are paying with their lives for it while their killers go unpunished. This was unacceptable, he said. Mr. Plathe demanded the Iraqi government and parliament to adopt laws and regulations and to create better frameworks that enhance the implementation of those laws. He also called for the judiciary to be given the necessary tools to prosecute those who violate the laws. He added that “media organizations must apply the best security measures for their employees”. Mr. Plathe mentioned names of a number of Iraqi journalists who were killed this year and added to the statistics recorded by UNESCO for the victims of journalistic work in the world. Additionally, he mentioned that UNESCO was leading the global campaign to protect journalists and conduct training and capacity building to enhance the protection mechanisms in Iraq, Nepal, South Sudan, Tunisia and Pakistan.
At the end of the seminar, participants launched an initiative to end impunity for crimes against journalists in Iraq that includes: re-investigation of the killings and attacks cases; preparing an assessment of the situation of safety of journalists to strengthen field safety; the formation of a joint operations room that includes the partners to follow up on any future violations that may affect journalists. The partners represented by the following parliamentarian committees: Culture and Media, Legal and Human Rights; Judicial Authority, represented by the Supreme Judicial Council; the Executive, represented by the Ministries of Justice and Interior; Auditory parties, represented by Iraqi High Commission of Human Rights and the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate; as well as international organizations represented by UNESCO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who have pledged to implement the initiative.