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Congress passes Right to Information Bill

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 14 April 2010 - ARTICLE 19 welcomes the approval, last night, of a draft Bill on the Right to Information (RTI) by the Lower House of the Brazilian Congress, an important step forward in consolidating democracy in Brazil. The Senate now has to approve the Bill, but advocates are confident that this will happen without any major delays. ARTICLE 19 congratulates Brazilian legislators and civil society for their work leading to the adoption of this important law, which will finally give effect to the right to information provided for by the 1988 Brazilian Constitution.

The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right recognised under international law. Proper effect can be given to this right only through implementing legislation so the government of Brazil is under a positive international law duty to enact effective legislation on the right to information.

The RTI Bill contains a number of positive features. It includes, among other things, a clear statement of the right of access, broad coverage of executive, legislative and judicial bodies, tight timelines for responding to requests, strong notice provisions, absolute openness in relation to information concerning human rights protection and violations, a progressive system for classification of information, good rules on sanctions for obstructing access and important extensions to whistleblower protection.

Despite being a landmark development for the right to information in Brazil, the Bill still has some shortcomings. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly emphasised the importance of an independent body to consider appeals against refusals to provide access to information, something the current text still fails to establish. The experience of other countries demonstrates that such a body is essential to the success of a right to information law.

The Special Commission appointed to review the Bill prepared by the Executive did add a provision calling for the appointment of an "organ from the Public Administration" to promote public awareness, to develop training activities for officials, to monitor implementation and to report annually to the National Congress. But the Bill still fails to provide for an independent administrative oversight body. ARTICLE 19 calls on members of the Senate to consider this final improvement before passing the new right to information law.

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