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Further improvements needed in draft Right to Information Law, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is an ARTICLE 19 press release:

Bangladesh: Submission on Draft Right to Information Law

ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Freedom of Expression, together with partner organisations in Bangladesh - Shushashoner Jonno Procharavijan (SUPRO), Mass Line Media (MMC) and Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC) - today provided a Submission on the draft Bangladesh Right to Information Law. The Law seeks to establish the right to access information held by public bodies. The ARTICLE 19 Submission aims to contribute to the process of developing a law which will ensure the right to information in accordance with international standards. The draft Law includes a number of positive features while, at the same time, there are a number of areas where further improvement is possible.

We understand that the draft Law has been approved by the Right to information Law Drafting Committee and is currently the subject of consultations leading up to a roundtable involving different stakeholders, presently scheduled for late March 2008. Positive features in the draft Law include the fact that it overrides inconsistent provisions in other laws, and specifically in the Official Secrets Act 1923; it provides protection against liability for civil servants implementing its provisions; and it provides for an independent and high-level Information Commission with broad powers to remedy failures to implement the law.

At the same time, the draft Law could still be further improved. Our main concerns are as follows:

a. The right of access is limited to citizens, instead of applying to everyone, and the openness obligations do not apply to legislative, judicial and constitutionally established bodies.
b. The proactive publication obligations are too limited, both as to the scope of information covered and as to the means by which this information is to be disseminated.
c. The regime of exceptions is too broad. It contains some exceptions which are not legitimate, it lacks a consistent standard of the harm and the rules for providing information in the public interest notwithstanding an exception are weak.
d. The measures to protect the independence of the Information Commission could still be further improved, for example by replacing the Cabinet Secretary from the process, and by providing for greater civil society input and by further limiting the conditions for removal of members.
e. The package of promotional measures could be further improved, for example by allocating a wider promotional role to the Information Commission, including through the dissemination of a public guide on how to use the law, and by imposing specific training obligations on public bodies.

ARTICLE 19 and its partners encourage the Bangladeshi authorities to revise the draft Law to bring it more fully into line with international standards, with a view to promoting a progressive right to information system in Bangladesh.

The analysis is available at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/bangladesh-foi-sub.pdf

An English translation of the draft Law is available at: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/laws/bangladesh-draft-rti.pdf

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works globally to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees free speech.

Updates alert on the draft Right to Information Law: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/57524

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