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Freedom of expression, pillar to peaceful society – UNESCO

By Busayo Onijala

Santiago Mourão, President, General Conference of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), has said that access to information and freedom of expression are main pillars for the advent of just and peaceful societies.

These, he said, are also crucial to the rule of law, good governance and setting the  foundations for democracy.

Mourão made this known on Monday during a virtual high-level discussion co-hosted by the Office of the President of the Human Rights Council, UNESCO and the Universal Periodic Review branch of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR/UPR ).

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that UPR is a process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States,  providing the opportunity for each State to declare actions taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries.

Its aim is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur.

Mourão said that the freedom of expression had constantly been threatened, noting that the pandemic showed off the power of digital technologies and new media for producing and sharing information.

According to him, access to information has been directly associated to access to internet, but the digital divide has endured in some regions, revealing inequalities based on gender, age and socioeconomic status, among others.

He said that in spite of the central role played by journalists during crises, providing life saving frontier and frontline services, they face increased harassment, psychological stress and trauma.

This, he said, was why strengthening the defence of freedom of expression was imperative.

“We have seen increasing violence against media professionals especially women and no country is immune to these challenges.

“The great majority of cases of killed journalists remain unresolved or unreported.

“In this context, the engagement of states to foster policies or laws that reinforce universal rights for the formation of freedom of expression is of course essential,” Mourão said.

Speaking on the UPR, he said it was a universal and non-selective mechanism aimed at avoiding double standards and excessive politicisation.

He said its guidance load could be a resource to nourish the debate, not only among governments but also among the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), United Nations country teams, National Human Rights Institutions, Information Commissioners and journalists.

“We need to reinforce our commitment to make of human rights, the compass set into global sustainable development,” Mourão added.

The president of the Human Rights Council, Federico Villegas, said partnerships and collaborations were key to the work of the HRC.

These, he said, enable the council to draw on diverse perspectives, allow its messages to be amplified and maximise efforts to turn discussions and decisions into concrete and tangible impact on the ground.

According to him, the UPR is a perfect example of the importance of partnership.

He said, ”Since its establishment, the UPR mechanism has advanced the promotion and protection of human rights.

“It has also secured greater compliance in law and in practice with international human rights norms and the commitments made by all states in all regions of the world.

“The considerable increasing number of member states participating and formulating recommendations demonstrate the continued interest in the mechanism by the international community.

“As we prepare to open the fourth cycle in November this year, it is essential that we maintain the excellent track record and ensure that this exercise does not become a routine but continues to have a positive impact globally.”

Villegas urged all UN entities and agencies to follow the lead of UNESCO and utilise the UPR and its recommendations to guide their interventions, programmes and activities with a human rights perspective.

On her part, Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said freedom of expression is essential for any society to realise its people’s fullest potential and aspirations.

She described it as a necessary condition for the realisation of the principles of transparency and accountability which are key for the promotion and protection of all human rights. (NAN)

Edited by Abdullahi Mohammed/Julius Toba-Jegede

 

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