27 April 2000


Press Release
SG/SM/7372



JOINT MESSAGE FROM SECRETARY-GENERAL, UNESCO, HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS, TO MARK WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY, 3 MAY 2000

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Following is the joint message to mark World Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2000, from Secretary-General Kofi Annan, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson:

On this first World Press Freedom Day of the new century, and in the context of the International Year of the Culture of Peace, we urge all actors in conflict situations around the world -- governments, local authorities and armed forces -- to protect the right of all citizens to reliable information and the right of journalists to provide it without fearing for their security, their freedom or their life.

In every society, freedom of the press is essential to transparency, accountability, good governance and the rule of law. It cannot be suppressed without dire consequences for social cohesion and stability. When it is sacrificed, whatever the reasons invoked, the chances are that conflict is not far down the road. All States should ratify the relevant international human rights instruments and should scrutinize their domestic legal systems with a view to bringing them into line with international standards governing the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

In times of conflict, the media's responsibilities for independent and pluralistic reporting are more important than ever. They can help to prevent the worst atrocities. But when belligerents see freedom of expression as an enemy to their cause and the media as a tool for propaganda, journalists who attempt to report in a non-partisan way face pressure, manipulation, intimidation or even elimination. And when they are forced to leave, the cycle of violence does not end. The only remaining eyewitnesses -- aid workers and local residents -- often become the next targets.

In the aftermath of war, the establishment of a free and independent press offers a way out of mistrust and fear, into an environment where true dialogue is possible because people can think for themselves and base their opinions on facts.

Particular attention should be given to ensuring that women’s voices are heard. Women are often the first ones affected by armed conflict. It is, therefore, right and indeed necessary that women have full access to information and that they be there to cover the issues, with equal strength and in equal


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numbers. Governments are urged to do all they can to overcome any formal and cultural obstacles to the exercise by women of their right to freedom of expression.

Wherever their independence or security is threatened -- whether in repressive societies, in times of conflict or in post-conflict situations -- local journalists must be supported and protected in their efforts to maintain a flow of fair and independent information. The international media, too, have an important role to play, in providing non-partisan coverage of conflicts and in calling the world's attention to humanitarian crises, human rights abuses and other situations where oblivion would be the worst of fates for suffering human beings.

The international community must keep on seeking to remedy severe violations of press freedom. On behalf of our organizations, and in the interest of knowledge, justice and peace, we promise to explore every approach that offers hope of enabling the media to carry out their invaluable and often dangerous work.

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