The President of the ECOWAS Court of Justice, Honorable Justice Edward Asante has expressed ‘grave concern at the grim statistics of unwarranted attacks against journalists for simply performing their professional duty.

‘The freedom of expression and that of the press are of fundamental importance and no stone should be left unturned in protecting these rights, ‘ the President said in a paper at a UNESCO organized conference in Arusha to mark the International day to end impunity for crimes against journalists.

The President, whose paper was on The role of  the ECOWAS Court of Justice in defending freedom of expression and safety of journalists, spoke of the need to formulate ‘bilateral and multilateral responses to threats against journalist and commended the efforts by UNagencies such as UNESCO to protect journalists and end impunity.

While assuring that the Court will continue to play its part in ending impunity in West Africa in fulfilment of its human rights mandate, the President expressed the determination of the Court to remain a guarantor of the human rights of citizens and other nationals within the territories of the Community.

As evidence of the Court’s attitude to human rights violations by Member States, the President cited the case between Mohammed El Tayiyib Bah against the Republic of Sierra Leone where the Court said ‘persons and individuals must be careful with regard to the treatment of their nationals or citizens and other individuals within their territorial jurisdictions.’

According to the judgment, ‘where their acts or omissions towards such persons violate their rights as enshrined in international instruments, an international tribunal, such as ours, will have no alternative than to hold them answerable for the wrongs.’

Moreover, the judgement added that ‘the era of gross impunity by Member States and their Governments in our sub- region shall no longer be tolerated.”

The President emphasized the important role of journalists in disseminating information and the media as watchdogs in ‘entrenching a democratic culture and holding state actors accountable...’

He added:  ‘In promoting transparency and accountability in governance, journalists often run foul of State Actors, who sometimes perceive them as subversive elements or enemies of the State.’

 Concluding, he said that ‘freedom of the press can only be guaranteed if the rights of journalists are respected while State Parties are under obligation to take effective measures to prevent attacks such as murder, kidnapping, intimidation and threats against media practitioners in the performance of their duties and where they do occur, to investigate them, punish perpetrators and ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.’

The two day event which ended on 3rd November, was organized by the UNESCO Regional Office in Eastern Africa to take stock of the process of establishing national mechanisms for the safety of journalists in the region.