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Free speech, press freedom crucial for democracy, Ban tells Kyrgyz leaders

3 April 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon continued his visit to Central Asia on Saturday with a stop in Kyrgyzstan, where he stressed the need to protect all human rights, including free speech and press freedom.

“For the UN, the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle if a country is to prosper,” Mr. Ban said in remarks to the Kyrgyz Parliament, adding that “recent events have been troubling, including the last few days.”

Media reports have noted restrictions on the freedom of expression and press freedom in the country, including the recent shutting down of an opposition newspaper and the closure of other media outlets.

Mr. Ban also raised the issue when he met earlier in the day with President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov in the capital, Bishkek.

“As I told the President, all human rights must be protected. That includes free speech and freedom of the media,” he said during a joint press conference with Mr. Usenov.

Mr. Ban said he urged the President to orient his policies to further promote the democratic achievements of Kyrgyzstan, including its free press. “Media independence, tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity and a robust civil society are all fundamental to modernization. They are essential to creating growth, prosperity and opportunity,” he stated.

In addition, the Secretary-General encouraged the Government to fulfil all obligations under international human rights law and the many treaties to which it is a signatory, and also discussed Kyrgyzstan’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council and the expectations of the international community with regard to visits by independent rights experts.

“I encouraged the President to further develop policies for advancing social health and well-being, fighting against corruption at all levels of society and strengthening the rule of law,” Mr. Ban added.

Along with human rights, the UN chief’s address to Parliament also touched on a range of issues and opportunities for Kyrgyzstan and the UN to work together, including in achieving the globally agreed anti-poverty targets with a 2015 deadline known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and tackling climate change.

“People in Central Asia know the danger of climate change, of neglect of the environment, not by reading about it, but by suffering from it,” noted the Secretary-General, adding that growing pressure on resources, particularly water, underscores the need for quality management and cooperation.

Mr. Ban will have an opportunity to see first hand the effects of ecological deterioration on the Aral Sea, once the world’s fourth largest lake, when he travels to Uzbekistan, the next stop on a Central Asia tour that also includes Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.

While in Bishkek, he also attended a ceremony during which the President signed and committed himself to the Secretary-General’s “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” campaign, which calls for nations to put in place strong laws, action plans, preventative measures, data collection and systematic measures to address sexual violence in conflict situations.

“If you give a woman power and respect, she will take decisions that benefit her family, and society as a whole,” Mr. Ban said at the ceremony. “But we all know that women are all too often subjected to horrific abuse and violence, around the world. No country is immune.

“We must UNiTE to end crimes against women, including domestic violence, sex trafficking, and early or forced marriage,” he added.

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