World Press Freedom Day: Capitol Hill Roundtable
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Good morning. We are gathered here in the U.S. Capitol on World Press Freedom Day to celebrate the work of journalists globally and to reflect upon one of the United States’ core values: freedom of expression.
We are also here on the one-year anniversary of the Daniel Pearl Press Freedom Act. This important legislation signed into law by President Obama, highlights the invaluable role that the U.S. Congress plays in support of press freedom and as a vanguard for freedom of expression globally. I want to join Assistant Secretary Posner and others here today in thanking the members of Congress and all those who were instrumental in enacting this important bipartisan measure.
As President Obama has said, our foreign policy and multilateral engagement aims in part “to see that the principles of justice and human dignity are upheld by all.” Indeed, our work in the United Nations and other multilateral bodies does more than just contribute to U.S. national security, or help generate shared responses to common threats and challenges. It is also a critical avenue for promoting global respect for universal values, which is an enduring American interest and one we pursue across the UN system – including at UNESCO.
So as the United States hosts UNESCO World Press Freedom Day for the first time, we are raising the profile of press freedom and commemorating the important and too often dangerous work that journalists do worldwide to provide us with invaluable information and insight. But our work on this important issue does not begin and end with today’s events. We collaborate closely with UNESCO all year on press freedom and the development of independent media, including through support for its International Program for the Development of Communication, which expands opportunities for free, independent, and pluralistic media in developing countries worldwide.
And UNESCO’s programs to promote press freedom and freedom of expression, including for members of the press, are not our only multilateral efforts to protect this human right. When the United States won election to the Human Rights Council in 2009, our first priority was to transform what had become a poisonous and divisive debate on speech and expression into a concrete action to promote this freedom. We have shown our commitment to do so in our consistent support for the UN International Rapporteur responsible for monitoring threats to that right. Most recently, we successfully reframed a decade-long attempt to legitimize restrictions on offensive speech—in a manner that would also impact journalists—on the basis of “protecting” religion, a concept that is completely contrary to human rights. In March 2011, we were able to fashion consensus around the principle that speech should be promoted as a solution rather than panelized as a problem.
And the consensus in Geneva on the universal desire for freedom of expression is borne out on the ground. When I was recently in Kenya meeting with United Nations offices, I visited the Dadaab refugee camps, which house displaced persons mostly from Somalia. And despite the many basic necessities and services that were in short supply, the camp residents had put together a newsletter. This newsletter, organized by the refugee youth in the camps, is a shining example that wherever in the world you are, there is a story to be told. Journalists and citizen reporters bring light to these stories and share them with the rest of the world.
From refugees in the Dadaab camps to journalists and citizen activists facing arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture in Syria, I would like to acknowledge those individuals who work tirelessly and courageously, at times putting their own lives at risk, to inform the public about the issues and events that shape our world. We all benefit from the sacrifice journalists and citizen reporters make in the name of freedom of expression, and today, we honor their commitment. Thank you.