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Twenty-five organisations attending IFEX General Meeting urge UN and member states to change venue of WSIS unless Tunisian government makes substantial progress on respect for human rights and freedom of expression

(IFEX) - The following statement was issued at the 11th General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 13-18 June 2004, and is endorsed by the signatories below:

His Excellency Mr. Kofi Annan
Secretary General of the United Nations
United Nations
New York, NY 10017

18 June 2004


We, freedom of expression organisations assembled at the General Meeting of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 14-18 June 2004, write to express our deep and continuing concerns about plans to hold the UN-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in 2005.

At the conclusion of the first phase of the WSIS, the Intergovernmental Summit on Geneva adopted a Declaration of Principles affirming the centrality of human rights and freedom of expression as fundamental principles for the information society.

Despite this, the Tunisian government continues to violate its commitments under the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. The broadcast media remain dominated by the state, websites and newspapers critical of the government have been blocked or are prevented from publishing, censorship of the Internet is routine practice and Tunisia continues to imprison its citizens for exercising their freedom of expression.

We urge the United Nations and Member States to change the venue of the WSIS unless the government of Tunisia makes substantial progress on respect for human rights and freedom of expression. The following are basic and essential benchmarks for progress before holding the Summit in Tunisia:

1. The recognition of and respect for the unfettered right of human rights and other civil society groups, including freedom of expression organisations, to operate freely in Tunisia.

2. The dropping of charges against and the release of individuals jailed for exercising their right to freedom of expression, consistent with international human rights law.

3. Reform of the media and communications environment, including the right to establish independent media outlets and uncensored access to the Internet.

In addition, we require clear guarantees concerning the Summit itself:

4. That all local and international human rights and other civil society organisations are free to distribute and to receive material at and from the conference site without threat or practice of any form of censorship.

5. That local and international media will be able to report freely and without interference from the Summit, including directly from the conference site.

We call on the United Nations and Member States to insist that the Tunisian government make these guarantees concerning the Summit itself and that it commit to substantial and measurable progress with respect to the benchmarks that we have set out above.

In the event that the Tunisian government is unwilling to make such commitments, we urge the Secretary General of the United Nations to recommend the General Assembly reconsider its decision to hold the WSIS in Tunisia.

Yours truly,

Africa Free Media Foundation
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network, International
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations
Central Asian and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala
Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Freedom House
Freedom of Expression Institute
Free Media Movement
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Independent Journalism Center, Moldova
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Press Institute
Journaliste en danger
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Norwegian PEN
Reporters sans frontières
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
Thai Journalists Association
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee

Cc: Mr. Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary General, ITU
Mr. Koichiro Matsuura, Director General, UNESCO

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