Investigative journalists from 14 countries in West and Central Africa, are calling attention to what they call “the disastrous effects of corruption and illicit trafficking on human development and security” in the region, and urging journalists to embrace the challenge of investigative techniques to expose corruption and illicit trafficking which they argue have held down human development and worsen security situation in the region.
After a one-week regional workshop in Saly, Senegal, on the investigation and reporting of corruption and organized crime in the Sahel, participants who were joined by journalists from Latin America and Europe, challenged their African peers to see value in collaborative investigative networks as a way of freeing the region from the cancer of corruption, organised crimes.
The participants said the “continuing impunity for these crimes and the lack of satisfactory action of institutions mandated to fight against these phenomena”, as well as threats of criminal prosecution and physical insecurity faced by investigative journalists in the performance of their work in the region make the need for a renewed response to these crimes the major agenda for development in the region.
Participant saluted the recent emergence of the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) and asked that journalist push regional governments to give value to their treaty obligations under Article 13 of the UN Convention against Corruption.
The treaty provides that “Each State Party shall take appropriate measures to promote the active participation of individuals and groups outside the public sector.”
That participation, they add, should now be “strengthened by such measures to respect, promote and protect the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption,” as a way of aligning anti-corruption with freedom of expression.
The governments, the experts say, should also proper their obligation under Article 5 of the Convention of the African Union to “adopt such legislative and other measures to protect informants and witnesses in cases of corruption and related offenses, including their identity” and to “adopt measures to ensure that citizens report instances of corruption without fear of consequent reprisals”.
Participants in the workshop encouraged journalists and media in the region to actively explore UNESCO guidelines on access to information adopted in 2004 in Paris, and to practice more investigation and go beyond mere revelations; and establish local investigative structures for this purpose.
Challenging African journalists and media to use new technologies to network in and beyond the region and develop a database for press articles on corruption and organized crime, participants also called on regional media practitioners to implement platforms for citizens to report acts of corruption and organized crime.
They invited the media to always exercise good judgment and responsibility in carrying out their investigations; encouraging investigative journalists to strengthen their collaboration with anti-corruption authorities and anti-organized crime institutions in the region.
But they also urged regional governments to promote access to information through the adoption of appropriate legislation; as well as take the necessary steps to decriminalize press offenses and to ensure the physical protection of investigative journalists, even as they adopt appropriate measures, including legislation, to protect witnesses and whistle-blowers.
The event was upported by the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA), the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).