UNESCO's fight to promote a truly American value globally: Freedom of speech

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Every year on this day, May 3, the international community comes together for World Press Freedom Day. For those of us here in the United States, it's a day to not only celebrate our constitutionally-protected freedom of speech, but more importantly, to stand up and demand it for all.

Because even though we may take it for granted at times, freedom of expression still isn't a right in far too many places. Just look at what journalists faced around the world last year alone:

• 121 journalists were killed (nearly double the number in 2011) • 38 journalists were kidnapped • 879 journalists were arrested • 1,993 journalists were physically attacked or threatened.

In the last 10 years, more than 600 journalists and media workers have been killed while attempting to carry out a task we in the U.S. consider basic and fundamental: delivering information to the general public. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do to make sure more people have the freedom to express themselves and share knowledge safely, without the fear of persecution.

The UN plays a critical role in protecting and promoting that freedom of expression, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the front lines of this effort is UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which rallies journalists, bloggers, and everyday people around World Press Freedom Day every year. This time around, the agency is focusing on the digital realm of information sharing - pretty fitting, considering you're exercising your right to access the Internet right now.

Yet, despite UNESCO's critical work to expand that basic human right across the globe, the U.S. is perilously close to giving up its seat at the agency's table and its support for UNESCO's work to expand freedom of expression globally. We've already cut off all U.S. funding - amounting to nearly 22 percent of UNESCO's total regular budget - and if we don't pay our dues this year, we will in all likelihood lose our vote at the next General Conference in October.

Considering UNESCO helps promote truly American values like freedom of speech around the world, along with serving a number of important functions that help advance our national security interests, we can't let that happen.

That's what's on my mind this World Press Freedom Day. UNESCO is working to expand the freedom of speech to everyone, and while I can't think of anything more American than that, we find ourselves at the brink of the U.S. giving up its role in the agency.

Read more about the critical relationship between the U.S. and UNESCO here, and make sure to get involved in their efforts to give everyone the right to think, speak, tweet, like, and share freely.

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