UN Plan of Action

UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

Two Palestinian journalists walk through the site of an airstrike. They are wearing press vests and are surrounded by grey ash and rubble.
The UNPA is foundational to IMS’ safety work and approach. Since its inception in 2012, the UNPA has been the backdrop for IMS’ collaborations with local partners to establish robust national safety mechanisms, which is one of the key priorities for IMS in our work to improve the safety of journalists around the world.

Why the UNPA is important

The objective of the UNPA is to work towards a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide. It is the most comprehensive document available to outline the many aspects of the safety of journalists. The plan outlines actions needed to improve the media safety environment and UN member states’ responsibility in this regard.

In a global context of rampant risks to journalists’ safety, be it armed conflict, digital threats, political persecution or gender-based violence, the UNPA is as relevant as it was upon its adoption in 2012. In the decade since the launch of the UNPA, there has been an increase in the frequency and types of attacks faced by journalists and media workers. Meanwhile, the rate of impunity remains shockingly high, with the perpetrators of attacks going unpunished in nearly nine out of 10 cases.

Fortunately, conditions for progress are improving. Whereas in 2012, the community of stakeholders working to improve the safety of journalists was small and fragmented, over the last decade, it has grown substantially in both size and cohesion. Perhaps most importantly, the UNPA recognises that the work to secure the safety of journalists and end impunity for crimes against journalists cannot exist in isolation. Indeed, collaboration is crucial to build on existing strengths, create synergies, avoid duplications and provide context-sensitive solutions.

IMS has been involved at all levels of the UNPA, and the plan will continue to permeate our work, as evidenced by our commitment to developing national safety mechanisms that incorporate bringing tech stakeholders to the table, combatting disinformation and promoting gender equality.

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IMS’ largest contribution to the widening and strengthening of the community of stakeholders supporting safety of journalists was to lead the drafting of the Vienna Call for Action, a unanimously endorsed set of recommendations around key thematic priority areas including:

  • addressing gender-based attacks against journalists.
  • strengthening support for monitoring attacks.
  • bolstering national safety mechanisms.
  • tackling impunity for crimes against journalists.
  • addressing digital threats to journalistsʼ safety.
  • making the UNPA more effective.

How IMS works with the UNPA

Since its inception in 2012, the UNPA has been the backdrop for IMS’ collaborations with local partners and for establishing robust and functional national safety mechanisms.

Many of the principles of the UNPA are standard parts of IMS’ safety work: we work in coalitions with multi-disciplinary stakeholders, and we aim to view every aspect through a human-rights and gender-sensitive lens. The UNPA has proved to be an efficient tool for safeguarding press freedom, and IMS has taken the lead when it comes to implementation of national safety mechanisms.

There is not a one-size-fits-all application of the UNPA, and IMS has taken a holistic approach to utilising its principles in different contexts. This includes adapting national safety mechanisms to function on local and regional levels.

What are national safety mechanisms?

National safety mechanisms are locally anchored, multi-stakeholder coalitions that can include but are not limited to government representatives, media organisations, civil society actors, academics and police forces.

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National human rights institutions and journalist safety report cover

National human rights institutions and journalist safety

This report explores the role of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in South and Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines – and probes how their resolute engagement in supporting national safety mechanisms for journalists can contribute to upholding their mandate of promoting human rights for all.

Pakistan: a consensus of accountability

Applying the UNPA requires taking a context-specific approach that is unique to each country and region. In Pakistan, the approach was to emphasise legal reform on both national and regional levels.

IMS used the UNPA as a template in its effort to help establish the legal framework for a national safety mechanism in Pakistan. Today, Pakistan’s national safety mechanism has resulted in conducive legislation. At an event in 2022, Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif promised that his government would enforce the special national law on the safety of journalists passed by the Pakistani parliament in 2021.