The 8th Informal Seminar on Human Rights, entitled “Freedom of Expression”, was held in Siem Reap, Cambodia from 26t-28th September, 2007. Countries in Asia and Europe are converging around the principle of freedom of expression, recognising not only its intrinsic value for realising everyone’s full human potential, but also its indispensable contribution to developing tolerant, prosperous and harmonious societies.
This was a key conclusion from the seminar, bringing together about 140 participants from governments and various sectors of civil society, representing 38 of the 43 ASEM countries, the European Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretariat. The meeting was addressed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen; Dr. Shashi Tharoor, former UN Undersecretary-General for Communications and Public Information; and Mr. Robert Menard, founder and Secretary-General of Reporters without Borders; which also featured working groups on four dimensions of freedom of expression: political rights, cultural rights, state-civil society relations and the impact of information & communications technology (ICT).
Participants affirmed the continued relevance of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” There was no divergence of view on the positive contributions of this fundamental freedom to society. The key debates in the seminar, therefore, were not over the principle of freedom of expression, but the challenges of implementing this freedom in effective ways in ASEM countries.
As the follow up of the Seminar, a brief report on its main conclusions were sent shortly afterwards to ASEM Senior Officials as a prelude to a more comprehensive report.