Remarks for Chargé d’affaires John Mark Pommersheim
Adil Soz Event “Promotion of the Constitutional Guarantees of Freedom of Speech in the Republic of Kazakhstan”
KazMedia Center, December 9, 2016
- Honorable Minister Abayev,
- Ambassadors, distinguished guests,
Let me first thank Ms. Kaleyeva and her colleagues at Adil Soz, not just for organizing this event but also for their tireless work every day on the important issues of freedom of expression. Ambassador Krol is in the United States this week, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak on his behalf here today.
This event is very timely, not only as Kazakhstan considers amendments to its legislation on media, but also especially because tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration, as you know, outlines a number of important rights and freedoms. But the freedom of speech – together with associated rights such as peaceful assembly and access to information – is essential to the exercise of virtually all rights.
Whether it is the right for equal protection of the law, freedom of religion, or the right to own property, to name just a few, the protection of citizens’ rights depend on the ability of a free and independent media to expose flaws and abuses. We know this from our own experience: When the Declaration was adopted in 1948, the United States fell far short in guaranteeing for many of our own citizens basic civil rights such as voting. In the decades that followed, the civil rights movement brought about tremendous progress in securing these rights for all Americans, but this progress would not have been possible without fundamental freedoms of expression – and that included the rights of citizens to engage in debates and participate in peaceful assemblies, and of media to freely cover those events and inform the public.
The bottom line is this. Probably every leader in the world (including in my country) has opened the newspaper to find things they wished hadn’t been written. The wisest among them understand that it’s most important to defend their critics’ right to voice their opinions and to print inconvenient truths.
As Kazakhstan works to reach the ambitious goals of the Five Institutional Reforms and 100 Concrete Steps, the freedom of expression and independent and vibrant media are just as important for Kazakhstan’s future success. Transparency and accountability of the state – one of the five institutional reforms – is only possible with media outlets that hold government bodies accountable and expose corruption. Furthermore, as Kazakhstan works to diversify its economy and seize the opportunities of the 21st century knowledge economy, a vibrant, globally connected media and information space will become ever more important to Kazakhstan’s future prosperity. So I look forward to hearing from you and discussing with you how we can work together to protect and advance the free exchange of ideas that is fundamental to the freedom and prosperity of our societies. Thank you.