From assisting refugees to legal defense of journalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina

UNESCO: Could you present yourself and introduce how you become committed to promoting media freedom?

Emir Prcanovic: Vasa Prava BiH is a Bosnian nongovernmental organization that provides free legal assistance on civil matters to poor and disadvantaged Bosnians, refugees, displaced people, and otherprople in need. Vasa Prava BiH traces its roots back to the Legal Aid and Information Centre (LAIC) network created by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1996, soon after the end of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). By 2003 the LAIC network had become an entirely Bosnian NGO which, as of 2020, has about 45 full-time staff members, 7 offices throughout the country and 60 mobile teams serving practicaly all BiH municipalities.

Journalists in BiH continue to face violence and intimidation while performing their job. They are subject to attacks, threats and lawsuits, which adversely impact their overall performance and limit the right to freedom of the media and expression. In order to facilitate freedom of expression and media in BiH, Vasa prava BiH strives to ensure affected journalists can make use of the available mechanisms for redress of violations by receiving the legal support they need and to empower them to seek this type of assistance when faced with legal charges. To achieve this, journalists receive free legal aid in the forms of direct legal advice and court representation.

UNESCO: What is the mission of the organization you are working for?

Emir Prcanovic: Vasa Prava’s core mission is to promote civil, socio-economic, cultural and human rights and to provide fair access to justice for the realization of those rights. It is helping to build an active civil society and a culture of rights; most fundamentally, it is playing a vital role in making recovery-oriented legal reforms a reality for Bosnia’s disadvantaged, dispossessed and disenfranchised populations, thus helping to rebuild their lives and their country.

UNESCO: What will you do thanks to the grant by the Global Media Defence Fund?

Emir Prcanovic: Vasa prava Bih will deliver the following types of assistance: legal advice, legal representation before courts and comprehensive advocacy support (including public statements condemning attacks on freedom of expression and/or media professionals). The estimated number of legal procedures before courts is 30 cases during the project duration, and the number of journalists that will benefit from other types of services such as consultations with legal experts on controversial and investigative stories in order to avoid defamation charges is expected to be higher.

UNESCO: What will be the impact of this action?

Emir Prcanovic: In sum, the action aims to offer support to journalists in protection of the right to freedom of expression and media in several ways:

  1. Provision of legal aid will increase chances of affected journalists in court – 20 media professionals will receive legal representation while six strategic litigation cases will be initiated before BiH courts). Additionally, 200 media professionals will receive legal advice that will help them deal with threats and prevent defamation cases;
  2. Outreach activities so as to ensure journalists’ can effectively use of available redress mechanisms;
  3. Identifying weaknesses in case processing and making policy recommendations to improve institutional protection and prevent violations of freedom of the media and the expression.

This action also aims to contribute to the SDG 16 that states: “to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.”

UNESCO: Any suggestions/recommendations you would like to make to UNESCO as administrator of the Global Media Defence Fund and to its donors?

Emir Prcanovic: Multi-annual core funding schemes should be developed – considering that enhancing media protection and improving the access of journalists to specialized legal assistance supporting legal defense based on international standards on media freedom requires multi-annual assistance.

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