The Gambia Press Union (GPU)’s leadership has come under stern criticism from the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa for never utilizing its Observer Status.
“The Gambia Press Union has an ‘observer status’ but not once have they come to the office to report violations of the rights of journalists in this country,” Commissioner Pansy Tlakula said on World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) granted observer status to the GPU) on October 26, 2011 after the Union applied for it under the ARTICLE 19/GPU European Commission-funded project.
The observer status allows for the Union to make statements at the ordinary sessions of the Commission on cases of violations of press freedom and freedom of expression.
On May 3, Tlakula frowned at the Union’s leadership for not utilizing its status at the biannual Ordinary Sessions of the Commission and allowing for other organisations coming from outside to highlight the plight of Gambian journalists.
A World Press Freedom Day event organised by the GPU, UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner was held under the theme “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age.”
“What is missing is the voice of journalists at the level of the African Commission,” Commissioner Tlakula said. “What happen is that we have other organisations [from the outside] making statements on press freedom and freedom of expression which could have some underlying repercussions.”
She urged the GPU to come forward and report the constraints of Gambian journalists during the sessions of the African Commission.
Bai Emil Touray, president of GPU, admitted that for the past years they have not made use of the observer status by reporting to the commission.
“We apologized for not been able to deliver statements at the African Commission due to logistic reasons,” he said. “We promise that we will play a vital role in reporting before the commission in the coming years.”
Mr. Touray fall short of explaining what logistic reasons stopped the Union from doing justice to the observer status.
Lacked the will
FPI Editor Modou S. Joof, whose question on how observer status can further advocacy for press freedom and free expression at the level of the Commission prompted the Special Rapporteur’s reaction, said:
“The reason for the underutilization of the observer status is perhaps the Union’s leadership ‘lacked the will’ to pursue this all important status.
“Or lacked the knowledge on how to submit reports to Commission and have not bothered to find out either from the Commission or from respected rights groups like ARTICLE19 which helped it get observer status.”
Mr. Joof, who covered the ordinary sessions of the ACHPR since 2009, said: “Also, a bit of research could do, almost every bit of information about the African Commission, its work and organisations working with it is available online.
“The GPU leadership must not have allowed to be reminded of its mandate in this way, it does not cost much to monitor and document violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.”