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UN backs Afghan media call to protect journalists from violence

KABUL – The urgent need to improve the safety and security of Afghanistan’s journalists was the focus of a gathering to mark International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists in Kabul today.

More than one hundred people attended the event, with opening remarks delivered by Pernille Kardel, the UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative (Political) for Afghanistan, Nader Naderi, the Afghanistan President’s Ambassador of Freedom of Expression, and Najib Sharifi, head of the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC).

Ms. Kardel commended Afghan journalists for tirelessly doing their work often at great personal peril. “Journalism is not merely a job, but a calling – to inform the public and serve as an all-too-necessary check on abuse of power, be it by governments, businesses or individuals,” she said.

“The cycle of violence and impunity in Afghanistan has been a longstanding challenge, but has been particularly troubling for journalists over the course of the last year or so,” said the UN official, who is acting head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

“Those who attack a free press, a bulwark of any open society, cannot and should not think they are above the law,” said Ms. Kardel. “Fear and self-censorship among the media are real issues that end up denying the public the right to information and diminishing confidence in the rule of law.”

Also participating in the event – produced by AJSC, UNAMA and UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – were members of the international community, journalists from around the country and civil society representatives.

AJSC’s Sharifi noted at the event that in the past 15 years, more than 60 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. “Unfortunately, none of these cases have been investigated,” he said. “If impunity for crimes against journalists continues like this, we will lose all the achievements gained during the past 15 years.”

The cycle of violence and impunity in Afghanistan has been a longstanding challenge, particularly during the past year. Following direct threats from the Taliban in October last year, the group carried out a deliberate attack this January in Kabul, killing seven media professionals and injuring more from the Moby Group.

The International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists was created to help draw attention to and remedy such situations. In parallel to this initiative, a ‘Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity’ was established – with UNESCO in the lead – to promote concerted action among all UN agencies, working across the world with governments, civil society, academia and the media.

UNESCO is part of the UN family in Afghanistan. More than 20 different UN entities are present in the country, working to support the Afghan government’s priorities through a broad spectrum of development and humanitarian activities, including through support for development planning, resource mobilization and coordination of international donors and organizations.

UNAMA is mandated to support the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan as a political mission that provides good offices; promotes coherent development support by the international community; supports the process of peace and reconciliation; monitors and promotes human rights and the protection of civilians in armed conflict; promotes good governance; and encourages regional cooperation.

The International Convention for the Protection of Civilians and the 1949 Geneva Conventions state that attacks on civilian reporters are war crimes.


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