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TENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WINDHOEK DECLARATION

UNESCO will mark World Press Freedom Day with celebrations in Windhoek, Namibia. UNESCO chose the Namibian capital to commemorate the declaration signed ten years ago by African journalists who had gathered for a regional seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Media. The impact of the Windhoek Declaration, adopted on 3 May 1991, was such that the United Nations General Assembly decided in December 1993 to celebrate World Press Freedom Day on its anniversary. This decision also followed a UNESCO recommendation that the principle of press freedom be marked annually. Since 2001 is the International Year of Mobilization against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, the same theme has been chosen for this year's World Press Freedom Day.

The Windhoek Declaration proclaimed that "the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development." In a joint message, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, and UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura note that this message has become more widely accepted in the last ten years. They add that the "Windhoek Declaration became the first in a series of commitments, region by region, to uphold the freedom of people everywhere to voice their opinions, and their access to a variety of independent sources of information." The three UN leaders state that the press in many countries has become more independent and pluralistic since 1991, contributing to the development and strengthening of democracy, but they emphasise that freedom of expression is fragile and can never be taken for granted.

The joint message notes that many ethnic and religious groups -- usually minorities -- are prevented from using the media to communicate their views or express their identity. "Even the most heinous regimes can gain popular support if they manage to muzzle the media, or to manipulate it to arouse fear and hatred among their citizens," say Annan, Robinson and Matsuura. "Free, independent and pluralist media have an indispensable role to play in rooting out racism and xenophobia." The three UN leaders hope that this year's World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance will find ways to strengthen free media throughout the world, and "will remind media professionals of their vital role in educating the public and fostering peace and mutual respect among peoples."

During the ceremonies in Windhoek, the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize will be awarded to jailed Burmese journalist U Win Tin, former editor of the daily "Hanthawati" newspaper, vice-chair of Myanmar's Writers' Association and a founder of the National League for Democracy. He was arrested in July 1989 and sentenced to fourteen years in prison for allegedly belonging to the Burmese Communist Party. U Win Tin, whose health condition is considered serious, is currently held in Rangoon hospital [See IFEX "Communique" #10-10]. The US$25,000 annual prize, instituted in 1997, honours a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if some risk was involved. The prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated by drug cartels on 17 December 1986, in front of the offices of his newspaper, "El Espectador", in Bogotá.">http://communique.ifex.org/articles.cfm?category=0X&volume=10&issue_no=10%26amp;lng=english#2875">IFEX "Communique" #10-10]. The US$25,000 annual prize, instituted in 1997, honours a person, organisation or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the defence and/or promotion of press freedom anywhere in the world, especially if some risk was involved. The prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist assassinated by drug cartels on 17 December 1986, in front of the offices of his newspaper, "El Espectador", in Bogotá.

The Windhoek events will also include a seminar from 3 to 5 May to explore the impact of the declaration on independent and pluralistic media signed in the Namibian capital in 1991. Background papers for the seminar, entitled "Ten Years On: Assessment, Challenges and Prospects," provide perspectives from journalists in central, eastern, western, and southern Africa. Papers also cover the recent evolution of the media in Burundi and the changing status of African journalists. Up to 300 journalists, editors, representatives from non-governmental organisations and professional associations from Africa and around the world are expected to attend. Issues discussed will include obstacles to media freedom in Africa, the Internet, economic challenges facing media corporations, and the status of journalists and media organisations.

The seminar background papers, the full text of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration, the UN leaders' joint message and other materials related to 3 May celebrations are available on UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day website at www.unesco.org/press-freedom-day/.


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