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COURTS RECOGNISE ACCESS TO INFO AS HUMAN RIGHT

Recent judicial decisions in Paraguay and the Dominican Republic recognise access to public information as a fundamental human right - which will hopefully have a profound effect on other countries in the region, says ARTICLE 19.

On 2 May, an appeals court in Asunción, Paraguay ordered the municipality of Lambaré to provide a copy of its 2007 budget to a citizen, Picco Portillo. The city initially denied the information request, saying that it first had to go through all administrative channels.

But the appeals court ruled the denial was "unjustified" and a violation of the national constitution. The right to access information "is justified by the more generic right of forming opinions freely and participating in public matters in a responsible way," which is essential to democracy, said the court.

Although Paraguay has not yet approved an access to information law, the constitution protects the right to information, says ARTICLE 19. This is the first time a court of appeal in Paraguay judged a case on the right to access information. It is also a local landmark for the enforcement of constitutional rights.

"The decision in the Picco case - very well publicised in Paraguay - helps to build a certain hope that the fundamental right of access to information will be adequately recognised by the judiciary," says the Institute of Environmental Law and Economics (IDEA), which represented Portillo in the lawsuit and has spearheaded the campaign for an access to info law over the past two years. "In Paraguay, this is a real improvement. After this recent decision, many people approached and filed access to public information's requests."

IDEA hopes an access to info law will be passed in the coming months.

In another recent decision, the Dominican Republic Supreme Court ordered authorities to provide documents related to the construction of the Santo Domingo metro to journalist Luis Eduardo Lora.

In his television programme, Lora had interviewed an engineer who said that transportation authorities had failed to conduct proper geological studies for the construction of the subway. Government officials stated that the studies had been made, but refused to release them, citing national security reasons.

A judicial decision ordered transportation authorities to hand over the studies to the journalist, but the government filed an appeal. On 21 May, the Supreme Court confirmed the previous decision, saying that the information was of public interest - whether or not the project was feasible and safe, for example - and would not harm national security.

The decisions "should be used to inspire others in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure that people throughout the continent have access to government-held information," says ARTICLE 19.

Read more about the decisions here: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/94147/

Also visit IDEA: http://www.idea.org.py

(3 June 2008)

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