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Survey of right to information laws in Latin America released

A sweeping and comprehensive report detailing how laws in Latin America both limit and protect the public's right to know was released by UNESCO's office in Quito, Ecuador on 16 July.

The report, which was written by Toby Mendel, who is also the senior legal counsel at ARTICLE 19, surveys the relatively recent right to information laws in place in 11 Latin American countries, including Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

Making legalese accessible, the study provides a reading-between-the-lines perspective that highlights both the exemplary aspects of the laws, as well as the areas that require amendments or additions to ensure public interest is prioritised above the interests of governments and corporations.

A key shortcoming highlighted in the report is that many of the laws only apply to information deemed "official" or "public", rather than information in general. As a result, the legislative frameworks protect vast swathes of information from public scrutiny at the outset, as opposed to assessing information requests on a case by case basis.

"Access to information should not depend on the deemed usefulness or role of the information held," the report notes.

Another serious restriction on the right to information is that most information laws are subject to an overly broad range of exceptions. The exceptions often include information protected by pre-existing secrecy laws, which were implemented when the importance of the right to information laws was not acknowledged to the extent it is today.

The analysis also points to a number of progressive aspects of the information laws from the continent, which should serve as examples for governments across the globe. For instance, all right to information laws in Latin America decree that public bodies must publish certain key information, regardless of whether a request has been made.

The last two decades have seen an explosion of right to information laws in Latin America and across the globe. According to the report, only 13 countries worldwide had right to information laws in 1990. Now, legislation entrenching the public's right to know exists in 80 countries.

Read the full UNESCO report here

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