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Has Brazil's access to information law made a difference?

Munduruku Indians gather outside the Planalto Palace in Brasilia during a 6 June 2013 protest, calling for the suspension of the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant
Munduruku Indians gather outside the Planalto Palace in Brasilia during a 6 June 2013 protest, calling for the suspension of the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant

REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

This statement was originally published on article19.org on 22 May 2017.

ARTICLE 19 this week launched the report Five years of the Access to Information Law in Brazil - an analysis of cases on transparency. The study provides an overview of how the Access to Information Law (AIL) has been applied by public authorities in Brazil since it came into force on 16 May 2012.

The report points out the progress of and challenges for enforcement of the law by the country's public authorities in its five years of existence. It uses material contained in reports and requests for information made by ARTICLE 19 Brazil during this period, in addition to the organisation's experience in publicising the AIL and interacting with public authorities.

Among the positive progress seen are the considerable improvement in the volume of information available to the population, the establishment of mechanisms for information requirements, and the increase in the number of cities and states that have implemented the law.

Challenges include the shortfall in the understanding of AIL by state and municipal authorities, the recurring requirement for applicants to provide personal data beyond what is determined by AIL and the high rates of low quality responses to information requests.

The report highlights five emblematic cases in which transparency was a central theme for the exercise of human rights.

The first case explores the efforts of the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) to access information on National Economic and Social Development Bank investments in the construction of the Belo Monte Hydroelectric Power Plant, and the difficulties faced by affected communities in accessing information on the impacts of the work and its compliance with environmental regulations.

The second case looks at the process of obtaining the list of companies caught using workers in situations analogous to slavery from the Ministry of Labor, known as the "Dirty List of Slave Labor". After its publication was suspended in 2014, the list again went public in 2017 through the application of the AIL.

The report also talks about the case of the "Campaign against Pesticides and for Life", which used AIL to obtain and disseminate data from reports that evaluate the use of pesticides in foods consumed in Brazil. Such information is of high public interest and essential to guide consumers and farmers.

Another case recalls the action taken in February 2016 by the governor of the State of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, who classified the contents of several documents and records related to 'public security', triggering debate about the excessive culture of secrecy in the area. The case questions the premise that 'public security' is outside the principles of transparency and social participation.

Finally, the fifth case discusses the lack of public information available on legal abortion in Brazil, based on requests for information made by ARTICLE 19 about the services available for the procedure as well as on data made available on the Health Ministry's and other public agencies' websites. The absence of public information on a subject so important to women's healthcare violates their rights and demonstrates the failure of the State on a critical public health issue in Brazil.


Lack of independent national body is key issue

Joara Marchezini, coordinator of ARTICLE 19 Brazil's access to information programme, has said that the proper implementation of the Access to Information Law could be more widespread among Brazilian public bodies if there were an independent national body dedicated to monitoring the law.

"The creation of a body that acts independently from the Executive and is tasked with monitoring and promoting the Access to Information Law at federal, state and municipal levels would certainly bring great benefits to the practice of transparency among Brazilian public authorities. We believe that the insufficient application of the law that we have observed in some cases derives precisely from the absence of such a body", she said.

"We do have monitoring bodies and ombudsmen who, in the absence of an independent national body, have been instrumental in successfully applying the AIL in certain areas. However, some of them have suffered from the downgrading of their political status, which is a major concern for transparency", she concluded.

The full report is available in Portuguese.

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