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New Constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression adopted

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - 1 August 2012 - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) today hailed the adoption of a new provisional constitution of Somalia and praised the document for its provisions on freedom of expression, access to information and fundamental rights.

The National Constituent Assembly, which is empowered to provisionally adopt a new constitution to replace the current Transitional Federal Charter, adopted this constitution, which is the permanent constitution for Somalia pending adoption by national referendum.

The new provisional constitution provides the basic legal framework for how Somalia will be governed and how fundamental human rights will be guaranteed. It also constitutionally guarantees the existence and value of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The new provisional Constitution guarantees and protects the right to hold opinions, freedom of the press and freedom of speech. It specifically guarantees the right of each and every individual to search for, receive and disseminate information and ideas, and covers all types of expression and means of communication, including electronic and artistic.

For the first time in the history of Somalia, the new provisional constitution contains specific measures guaranteeing freedom of information, including access to information held by or on behalf of a public body, in accordance with international human rights standards.

The new constitution also guarantees accountability for human rights violations, a welcome provision considering the rampant rights violations that have been committed with total impunity.

As Somalia is currently at a critical stage in its transition to peace, stability and democracy, NUSOJ has been actively participating in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) of 825 delegates. Abdiqani Sheik Mohamed, NUSOJ Organizing Secretary, is an official delegate of the NCA and has been advocating for constitutional protection and guarantees for freedom of expression, freedom of the press and fundamental human rights.

“The protection of freedom of expression, access to information, press freedom and other fundamental rights are at the very core of the new Constitution,” said Mohamed.

The new provisional constitution also establishes a Human Rights Commission, which is “independent of government control, and has adequate resources to carry out its functions effectively”. It also guarantees freedoms of association, assembly, demonstration and protest.

“We warmly welcome the adoption of the new constitution. This new constitution marks a historic step forward, and we will make use of these progressive provisions to safeguard the rights of journalists and freedom of expression. This is an important step in the peace process that justifies the end of more than two decades of civil war and anarchy”.

“The greatest challenge now is to ensure that the provisions of the constitution are rapidly translated into eagerly-awaited benefits for the Somali people” added Mohamed. NUSOJ calls for a far-reaching review of all laws that are not in conformity with the new constitution. Media Law 2007 and Somalia's penal code are not in line with international standards of freedom of expression and need to be reviewed.

The adoption of the new constitution signifies the end of an eight-year transitional period and paves the way for the formation of national government for the first time since 1991. The constitution was approved by 621 delegates while 13 delegates voted against the document and 11 abstained.

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