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Myanmar commemorates International Day to End Impunity against Journalists for first time

Ms Min Jeong Kim, Head of UNESCO Myanmar, delivering her opening remarks. @Tin Aye/MoI

UNESCO held a national dialogue in Yangon on 7 November to address for the first time in Myanmar the Issue of Impunity and the Safety of Journalists. The meeting, that was held in the framework of the 5th Conference on Media Development in Myanmar, brought together more than 300 participants including media stakeholders and representatives from the military, police, Human Rights Commission, the Judiciary and members of parliament.

In her opening remarks, Ms Min Jeong Kim, Head of UNESCO Myanmar, read the statement that Mr Frank La Rue, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, issued on the occasion of the International Day to end impunity on the 2nd of November, “All harassment against journalists must be rejected, including arbitrary arrests and verbal intimidation. Ending impunity on all these acts is the most important step towards guaranteeing the safety of journalists. Protecting journalists and guaranteeing a free press is essential for the development of societies and important for every woman and man to exercise their right to access information, their right to participate as citizens in democracy, and their right to work for the right to development.”

The dialogue kicked off with a testimony of  Ma Nan Ohmar Aung, who described the difficulties and lack of protection, that she encountered as a female journalist when reporting from the conflict affected area in Shan State.  This lack of protection was also stressed by U Than Zaw Aung, Secretary of the Myanmar Media Lawyers Network, who said that “although we do provide legal advice to journalists, it is not enough and media practitioners don’t feel safe when they try to access information or when they cover stories in conflict zones”.

U Khin Maung Tun, Deputy Director General of the Supreme Court, mentioned that “although there are some provisions that protect journalists in the News Media Law, there are still some bills under the penal code that are outdated and not in line with international standards. These laws are often used to criminalize the activity of journalists and it poses a threat on freedom of expression and the press”. On the other hand, the representative from the Supreme Court, reminded the journalists gathered in the dialogue that if they suffer harassment or are threatened, they can place a lawsuit as long as they have proofs of those threats.

For Mr Lars Heiberg Bestle, Head of Asia at the NGO International Media Support, “it is essential to build independent national mechanisms that can protect journalists”. Mr Heiberg also encouraged the Government to continue with the necessary reforms to allow freedom of expression to flourish.

Panelists discussing the issue of Impunity and how to combat it in Myanmar. @Tin Aye/MoI

The discussions concluded that the government, the media, security forces and the judiciary need to work together and propose joint initiatives to protect journalists and punish those who commit crimes against them.

For more information, contact Mr Mikel Aguirre Idiaquez, Project Officer for Communication and Information (m.aguirre-idiaquez@unesco.org) or Ms Naing Naing Aye, National Programme Officer (nn.aye@unesco.org).



10.11.2016