INTIMIDATION OF MEDIA, HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS IN EGYPT ‘OUTRAGEOUS,’ BAN SAYS
3 February - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called for an immediate end to “the intimidation and restrictions on the international media and human rights groups” in Egypt's current turmoil, dubbing it “outrageous.”
Talking to reporters after meeting with German President Christian Wulff in Berlin, he said the two “share particular concern” at the intimidation and restrictions.
“Let me be absolutely clear. This is outrageous and totally unacceptable. It must stop now,” he said. “Respecting freedom of expression and assembly as well as information is a crucial
and essential part of democratic values. I once again strongly urge the Egyptian authorities to listen to the voices of the people and immediately start real change.”
He added that the United Nations stands ready to help the Egyptian authorities and people in whatever way it can when they begin their transition and changes, including elections.
Asked about calls from world leaders for President Hosni Mubarak to step down now, in line with the demands of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian protesters, Mr. Ban declined to comment on any individual leader's position.
“But we have seen that there were many world leaders who have been expressing their concerns and very genuine advice, sincere advice, to the Egyptian authorities to make the necessary reforms reflecting the genuine wishes and concerns expressed so far by the people,” he said.
At an earlier news conference in London today, he pledged United Nations support for the “bold reforms” needed to meet the people's aspirations in the Middle East.
Mr. Ban, who has already called for a speedy transition in Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have been demanding the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak for more than a week, reiterated his call to all sides to exercise restraint in the current turmoil.
“We should not underestimate the danger of instability across the Middle East,” he said in London. “The United Nations stands ready to support the bold reforms that are needed to meet the people's aspirations.”
He stressed that freedom of speech of peaceful demonstrators or journalists should be fully protected as “a ground principle of democracy,” adding: “And the government should listen very attentively to the wishes of people. This is the beginning point.”
He reiterated his call that a peaceful transition should begin now. Mr. Mubarak on Tuesday announced that he intended to serve out the remainder of his term but would not seek re-election in September.
The protests “reflect the great frustration of the Egyptian people about the lack of change over the past few decades. This discontent calls for bold reforms, not repression,” Mr. Ban said. “I am concerned about the growing violence. I have urged all sides to exercise restraint. Violent attacks against peaceful protestors are completely unacceptable.”
The Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, has joined Mr. Ban in calling on the leaders of Egypt to “listen attentively and sincerely to the voices of the people,” and on “their responsibility, first of all, to provide decent jobs and good opportunities to maintain a decent living.”
For many years, the ILO has been pointing to the lack of decent work in Egypt and other countries in the region, where the rates of unemployment, underemployment and informal work remain among the highest in the world.
“The failure to address this situation effectively, with all of its consequences for poverty and unbalanced development, together with limitations on basic freedoms, has triggered this historic outpouring of popular demands,” Mr. Somavia said in a statement from his headquarters in Geneva.
He welcomed the establishment in the last days and independent trade union calling for jobs, a living minimum wage, social protection, and freedom of association. “Theirs must be foremost among the voices that must now be heard,” he added.