Freedom of Expression

Press release R261/21

On the International Day for Universal Access to Information, the Office of the Special Rapporteur presents the Guide for access to environmental information in contexts of extractive, mining and hydrocarbon industries.

28 September 2021

Washington D.C. - On International Access to Public Information Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) publishes its Guide for access to environmental information in contexts of extractive industries, mining and hydrocarbons, which aims to contribute to strengthening the capacities of States and civil society in the effective and adequate implementation of the right to information in these contexts.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted various problems that regional democracies are forced to confront. Among them, the increase in measures restricting access to information and the lack of transparency on matters of public interest are of particular concern to the Office of the Special Rapporteur. As this Office has pointed out on previous occasions, the right of access to information is a fundamental pillar of democracy, which is why States are called upon to adopt all necessary measures to remove obstacles and guarantee this right in their legislation and in practice.

Recognizing the importance of the domestic application of the standards of the Inter-American System for the respect and protection of rights, the Guide attempts to compile and analyze judicial decisions and national practices in this area at a regional level from a human rights perspective. The Guide recognizes that in the contexts of extractive industries, mining and hydrocarbons there are still important challenges regarding the guarantee and effectiveness of the right of access to information with environmental relevance, mainly linked to the maximum disclosure and transparency of this kind of information, and the need to reach an adequate level of coordination between the different mining, environmental and control authorities that allows timely, complete and truthful access to information. Accordingly, the Guidelines conclude that it is the obligation of States to prepare and disseminate information in a periodic and updated manner at each stage of the extractive activity; to provide timely and sufficient information on environmental emergencies, as well as on environmental and health risks; and to provide an administrative and judicial remedy that allows for the satisfaction of the right of access to information. Finally, it recognizes that in the specific case of the mining and hydrocarbons industry, States must also observe Inter-American standards on business and human rights.

You can access the full report here.

This Office welcomes the participatory nature on which the preparation of this document was based. During this process, the Rapporteur’s Office carried out a series of consultations and workshops, and received contributions from States, civil society and companies involved in the development of extractive mining and hydrocarbon activities.

Likewise, the Rapporteur’s Office ratifies the importance of the standards developed in its thematic report "Right to information and national security", published on September 28, 2020, which addresses the legal and factual obstacles existing in the region to harmonize the circulation of information of public interest and the national security exception. This report recognizes that in the Americas there are still challenges associated with the obligation to adapt domestic legal frameworks to the requirements of access to public information, in many cases arising from the culture of secrecy and the use of a broad and imprecise concept of national security, which in many cases has been used to limit the enjoyment of human rights and justify the persecution of certain groups. In this sense, the document examines the challenges surrounding the right of access to information on issues of high public interest such as archives and documents on serious human rights violations, state surveillance and intelligence, corruption and abuses of power.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur hopes that both the Guide for Access to Environmental Information and the report on the Right to Information and National Security can be valuable contributions to the advancement and consolidation of inter-American standards in this area. As the IACHR and the Rapporteurship have pointed out,  access to information is a vital tool for the construction of active and participatory citizenship in matters of public interest, the full and informed exercise of rights, and the strengthening of democratic governance.