Nepal's new constitution must enshrine press freedom, stresses UN official

Richard Bennett of the human rights office (OHCHR) in Nepal (file Photo)

2 May 2008 – Enshrining guarantees of freedom of expression and access to information in Nepal's new constitution will be crucial tasks for the recently elected Constituent Assembly, the top United Nations human rights official in the country said today, on the eve of the worldwide observance of World Press Freedom Day.

“However journalists, and all Nepalis, will be empowered only when those written guarantees are translated into real access to information on the ground,” said Richard Bennett of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Nepal, as he addressed a gathering in the capital, Kathmandu, to mark the Day, observed annually on 3 May.

He stressed the important role of the media in a country such as Nepal, which is recovering from a decade-long civil war that claimed an estimated 13,000 lives until the Government and Maoist rebels signed a peace accord in 2006.

“In a post-conflict society such as Nepal, where tensions are sometimes high and challenges remain to human rights, governance, development and durable peace, the media plays an even more central role where accuracy and depth of reporting is especially crucial,” stated Mr. Bennett, who also heads the human rights unit of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

OHCHR plans to conduct training for journalists next month on the media's role in reporting on the Constituent Assembly, including the drafting of a new constitution that will enshrine respect for human rights, including freedom of expression.

Mr. Bennett noted that while the activities of the media “are not without controversy,” as the 10 April polls demonstrated, in general the media did its job of reporting in a balanced and responsible manner.

He also voiced concern about the incidents against journalists that were reported during the election process. According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), these included 20 cases of physical attacks, a dozen cases of threats and intimidation, and numerous other attempts to stifle freedom of expression.

In addition, a report released today by the Federation of Development Journalists (FODEJ) reveals that the number of incidents in which media workers were targeted jumped in the past year, from 294 to 474.

Mr. Bennett pledged the assistance of OHCHR to help ensure that the right to freedom of expression and information is respected by all in Nepal.

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