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ARTICLE 19 celebrates advancements in the right to freedom of information

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 28 September 2011 - The right to freedom of information has experienced both success and adversity since ARTICLE 19 last celebrated Right to Know Day in 2010. New international initiatives, laws and regulations have brought the number of people living in countries with freedom of information laws to approximately 5.3 billion, but many proposed laws remain sluggish and weakened by inaction.

Advancements in the right to freedom of information

At the international level, the most important development has been the growth in the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), with 20 organisational signatories and 22 partner countries, including the World Bank, the UK Department for International Development, the United Nations Development Programme, and most recently, the Commonwealth, which has pledged to stand behind the Initiative.

Nearly 50 countries have also joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), including the United States, and 12 countries have achieved compliance.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) has garnered commitments from over 40 nations to improve access to information in their countries. There has also been substantial debate on the development of new international or regional conventions on access to environmental information for the upcoming UN Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit.

Africa strides forward

The most substantial national developments over the past year have taken place in Africa.

There are now ten African countries that have a law or national regulation establishing the right to freedom of information. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed the Liberian Freedom of Information Act in October 2010, the first country in West Africa to adopt a right to information law, and after almost two decades of delay, President Goodluck Johnson signed Nigeria's 2011 Freedom of Information Act in May.

New national ordinances on access to information have also been adopted in the Republic of Guinea and Niger. After years of inaction, Uganda passed its Access to Information Regulations in April 2011, implementing the 2005 Access to Information Act. The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights' Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Information, Ms Pansy Tlakula, is progressing quickly on creating a model freedom of information law to set out best practices for countries across the continent.

Many other African countries have also made progress. The government of Rwanda has proposed a fairly progressive bill and Kenya has added a freedom of information law to its list of priority legislation to pass before August 2012. In Senegal, a draft law developed by civil society received support from the prime minister and government officials, creating a national coalition to drive the bill forward. Mali and Burkina Faso have started discussions on developing laws.

In August 2011, a regional meeting in Nairobi resulted in the promise by Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda of renewed efforts to pass laws, and an undertaking to ensure effective implementation of laws by the governments of Uganda and Ethiopia. Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country to launch the Open Data Initiative, and joined Tanzania to formally lodge their letters of intent to be part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

In September 2011, the Pan-African Conference on Access to Information adopted the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) - a regional declaration indicating support for the right to information principles. The APAI elaborates on the right of freedom of information, and sets out minimum standards for access to information at a national level. The landmark regional declaration declares that the right to know is vital for good governance and a fundamental right of all people.

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Click here to read the full statement

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