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As world marks 60th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gaza blockade continues, ban on foreign media reinstated

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Gaza: Blockade Continues as World Marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In a week when the world marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Israel's blockade on Gaza shows no sign of ending. The people of the Gaza strip continue to be deprived of basic human rights such as food and fuel, whilst restrictions on foreign media entering the strip reinforces their isolation.

"This is an insidious abuse that seeks to suppress legitimate cries for help and depictions of suffering from reaching the rest of the world. The rights to information and expression are fundamental human rights. They underpin all human rights and are central to human development, peace and security. In the context of a conflict, fulfilling these rights takes on particular importance: information can not only ensure that assistance is effective and locally relevant, but it can also save lives and preserve human dignity," says Dr Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

On 4 November 2008, the Israeli authorities extended their blockade of Gaza to prevent food, fuel and essential supplies from entering the territory. Furthermore, on 6 November, the authorities imposed a news blackout by preventing international media from accessing Gaza. The blockade was eased briefly on the 27 November to allow limited amount of essential supplies, including UN food aid for only the fourth time since the start of the blockade.

On 4 December, the Israeli government also lifted the ban on foreign media entering Gaza for the first time since the start of the month-long blockade. However, the ban was reinstated the next day and remains in place.

An Israeli Defence Force spokesman stated that the opening of crossings into Gaza would be reviewed daily and would be subject to the cessation of rocket attacks against southern Israel.

However a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that the intermittent opening of these crossings would "have little impact unless they remained open on a regular daily basis".

Speaking from Gaza, Ewa Jasiewicz, a Free Gaza organizer, journalist, and solidarity worker told ARTICLE 19 that "Israel was trying to hide the inhumane effects of the siege on the people in Gaza from the world." Jasiewicz arrived on the Free Gaza movement ship "Dignity," which successfully broke through the Israeli blockade, arriving in the port of Gaza at 2:45pm on Tuesday 9 December. The ship was carrying essential medical supplies and high-protein baby formula, in addition to a delegation of international academics and humanitarian workers.

"I am delighted to be here in Gaza," Jasiewicz also told the Democracy Now news program. "I was banned from Palestine by the Israeli authorities and, as a journalist, I think it is important that journalists report independently from the ground, being here with people."

A severe shortage in fuel has further entrenched the isolation of Gaza as limited electricity supplies restrict access to communication channels such as the internet and satellite television.

ARTICLE 19, together with the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), calls for the complete lifting on the ban on foreign media entering Gaza and not just an intermittent cessation of the ban. The people of Gaza deserve to be heard and, as nations celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UDHR, the world has a right to hear of their worsening plight.

On 8 December, Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, emphasised in a statement that the UN "must implement the agreed norm of a responsibility to protect a civilian population being collectively punished by policies that amount to a crime against humanity."

The UN Human Rights Council also issued a statement on the same day recommending the implementation of 99 measures to improve Israel's human rights record. These include the "immediate cessation of Israel's military operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the lifting of the closure imposed on the Gaza strip, the reopening of the passage to and from the Gaza Strip and to fully respect its human rights obligations in the country, including in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."

ARTICLE 19 and MADA join the UN Human Rights Council in urging Israel to fully respect its human rights obligations by lifting the blockade and reopening the passage to and from Gaza. We especially call for the ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza to be immediately lifted.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech. For more information on ARTICLE 19 please visit http://www.article19.org

MADA is an independent non-governmental organization established by Palestinian journalists and supporters of media freedom. The centre aims to develop Palestinian media and to defend the rights of journalists and media institution. Visit http://www.madacenter.org

Updates the situation of foreign journalists in Gaza Strip: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/99169

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