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RIGHT TO KNOW PUBLIC INFORMATION ADVANCES

Days after an official body of the Organization of American States recognised the public's right to know and access public information, Chile passed its own "right to know" law.

On 7 August 2008, the OAS's Inter-American Juridical Committee adopted principles on the right to information, including recognition of access to information held by public bodies as a fundamental human right. ARTICLE 19, which assisted the committee, welcomed the resolution as "valuable guidance as to the scope and implications of the right to information."

In 1994 the Declaration of Chapultepec stated, "Authorities should be legally bound to make available to citizens, on a reasonable and timely basis, the information generated by the public sector." And in a 2006 decision, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, also an OAS body, had recognised the right to information as implicit in the general right to free expression.

But the committee resolution goes further, calling for broad definitions of public bodies; clear and simple rules for processing requests; limited exceptions, with justification required to deny information; the right to appeal; and sanctions for obstructing access.

On 11 August, President Michelle Bachelet approved Chile's Public Information Access Act, which requires all state levels to deliver information requested by citizens within 20 days. The act, effective in April 2009, creates a Transparency Council to be responsible for compliance and where citizens can appeal denials of information.

In Miami, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) hailed Chile's law as a major step "to ensure and strengthen the full democratic rights of its citizens." At the same time IAPA called on lawmakers in Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay to make progress on official transparency.

Gonzalo Marroquín, director of Guatemala?s "Prensa Libre" newspaper and president of IAPA's Freedom of Press and Information Committee, repeated his request to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom for prompt congressional approval of the Public Information Access Act. The Freedom of the Press Committee of the Guatemalan Association of Journalists (APG) has also called for the bill to be passed.

Marroquín added that other countries in the Americas - notably Canada, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and the Dominican Republic - should "implement information campaigns aimed at teaching citizens that there is a law and how to use it."

Internationally, former United States president Jimmy Carter has forwarded the "Atlanta Declaration and Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right to Information" to all heads of state and leaders of major international organizations. The declaration was adopted in February 2008 at a conference in Atlanta of the Carter Center, which holds that "access to information is the cornerstone to good governance and to any anti-corruption and transparency effort."

Visit these links:
- The OAS committee resolution in English: http://tinyurl.com/5l5m9o
- OAS on the right to the truth: http://tinyurl.com/6hxk83
- IAPA/IFEX on Chile: http://tinyurl.com/68opov
- Circulation of the Atlanta Declaration: http://tinyurl.com/5ayxeo
- Atlanta Declaration: http://tinyurl.com/6fvyo9
(20 August 2008)

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