Freedom of Expression is a Human Right: UNESCO conference in Baghdad
“Freedom of Expression is a Human Right” was the theme of the one-day conference that took place on 17 December 2011 at the Iraqi parliament headquarters in Baghdad. The event was jointly organized by UNESCO’s Iraq Office, the Human Rights Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI HRO) and the Iraqi parliamentary Human Rights Committee. More than 150 delegates attended the event. They included Iraqi media and human rights professionals, members of parliament, representatives of civil society organizations, Iraq-based NGOs and foreign missions in Baghdad.
The conference was opened by the Deputy Speaker of the Iraqi parliament, who welcomed the initiative to organize such event. Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Francesco Motta, focused in his speech on the basic human right to freedom of expression for all Iraqis. Mohamed Djelid, Director of UNESCO’s Iraq Office, reminded the participants about one of the main tasks UNESCO was accomplishing in Iraq: to support freedom of expression.
Through this event, UNESCO sought to bring under the spotlight the intention of the Iraqi parliament to pass draft legislation curbing freedom of expression and right of assembly. This legislation primarily targets journalists, writers, bloggers and also anyone who dares to voice his opinion if not in agreement with the government. The Iraqi parliament (Council of Representatives) has already had its first reading of the draft legislation and the second reading is planned to take place next year.
UNESCO and its partners succeeded in raising the awareness of parliamentarians and the general public about the perils of this draft legislation. Its copy was made available to the conference participants, who focused in their discussions on the articles that were seen as violations of human rights of Iraqi citizens. Many parliamentarians vowed to vote against this legislation and pledged to continue the work, started at the conference, within their constituencies, by raising awareness about the danger for a nation to live without freedom of expression.
It was decided that a steering committee will be set up to follow closely the route the parliament will take in the near future vis-à-vis freedom of expression.
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