Speech by Claudio Cordone, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance, on the 30th World Press Freedom Day
Baghdad, Iraq – 3 May 2023
Your excellencies, journalists and distinguished guests,
It is my pleasure to commemorate the 30th World Press Freedom Day with you here in Baghdad on behalf of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.
Freedom of expression, as you all know, is a fundamental human right. It is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Article 38 of the Iraqi Constitution. It is a cornerstone of all other rights and a fundamental pillar of any democracy. It allows individuals to voice their opinions, hold people and institutions accountable, and contribute to decision-making processes. World Press Freedom Day reminds us of the critical importance of a free and independent media in promoting democracy, accountability, and human rights here in Iraq.
Journalists play a crucial role in exercising and safeguarding this right. You are the ones who bring us the news and information that is critical to make informed decisions. You are the ones who shine light on corruption, injustice, and human rights abuses. At the same time, you shoulder an important responsibility, that of being objective, look for the truth, avoid the manipulation of information for political or other purposes, and respect the rights of others.
We know that this profession comes at personal risk. UNAMI’s Human Rights Office has documented cases of harassment, intimidation, and violence against journalists. Journalists have reported receiving death threats following reports on sensitive topics, like corruption. Media outlets have been physically attacked or stormed by individuals angered by political statements made on-air. And media shutdowns or criminal lawsuits filed against journalists by powerful public figures and institutions deter reporting on sensitive or controversial topics.
In conversations with more than 250 journalists and bloggers from around the country, we have learned that many of you have resorted to self-censorship out of fear of reprisals for sharing information and opinions on sensitive topics.
This is unacceptable. We must together ensure that journalists can work freely and safely, without fear of persecution or harm. We must protect their right to investigate, report and comment on matters of public interest, even if their views are unpopular or controversial.
To achieve this, we need to ensure that the legal framework protects rather than unduly restricts this work. We are concerned that regressive former drafts of the Freedom of Expression and Cyber Crimes laws have resurfaced for discussion, as these do not adequately protect speech, privacy and other fundamental rights. Also, International human rights standards reject criminal penalties for slander and defamation – which gives me the opportunity also to urge public figures to refrain from taking legal action against journalists and critics, even if sometimes the language used is insulting or inappropriate.
To conclude, we need to stand in solidarity with journalists, to support them when they are under attack, and to hold accountable those who seek to silence them. We should all strive to protect this freedom.
As we commemorate World Press Freedom Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to a free, independent and professional media. You are essential to the health of a democracy and the protection of human rights.