Time for UN to create Right to Information Day
African group calls for Sept 28 to be recognised
The struggle has been going on for a decade and now the African Platform on Access to Information (APIA) has ratcheted up the pressure on the United Nations by calling on governments and non-state actors across Africa to not only commemorate September 28th as the 'Right to Information Day' but also to use all sub-regional, regional and global fora to ensure that it becomes an official UN Day.
In a statement issued to mark the 'day, the APIA said that 'this day has been celebrated by freedom of information organizations from around the world for the last ten years - as a day to promote the right of access to information for all people as a leverage for open, transparent, and accountable governments'. The statement added that recognising the 28th of September would 'ensure that access to information in all its dimensions is permanently on the agenda at all global levels'.
APAI working group - which is made up of nine organisations including the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Federation of African Journalists, Highway Africa, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Open Democracy Advice Centre and the African Editors’ Forum - has been campaigning since 2009 for greater access to information on the continent - and advocating for September 28 be formally recognised as the 'Right to Information Day' by both the African Union and the UN.
The statement explained the September 28 campaign was a worthy effort because of the 'centrality of access to information to the enjoyment of other fundamental human rights and to the promotion of transparency, accountability, good governance and informed citizen participation in any discourse....[and[ because as it is, the right of access to information on the continent is being enjoyed by very few people'.
Out of the 54 state parties on the African Continent, only 8 have put in place access to information laws and two other have put in place, actionable regulations. On the other hand, even in those countries that have put in place access to information laws, the full realisation of this right remains limited due to a myriad of reasons - such as the laws not being adequate, the lack of political will to implement the laws fully, and the lack of citizen awareness.
And this year, the need for a Right to Information Day is even clearer as an increasing number of states, under the guise of dealing with issues like national security and the fight against terrorism, have enacted - or are propopsing to enact - laws whose effect would undermine the full enjoyment of the right of access to information. A clear example is the Protection of State Information bill in South Africa, which includes some provisions that would - if passed - seriously undermine the broad access to information that is currently guaranteed in the Promotion of Access to Information Act.
Considering this worrying trend, tha APAI called on 'all stakeholders to start celebrating this day and use it as a platform to promote the right of access to information and to raise awareness on gaps that are still inherent in our different jurisdictions'.
And the group also urged state parties to take some key steps, including putting in place access to information laws based on instruments such as the APAI declaration and the AU model law on Access to Information; and fully implementing access to information laws that do exist and addressing any weak provisions within them.