The reports submitted by member states under the Inter-American Program on Access to Public Information (Inter-American Program) were taken up on January 25, at the regular meeting of the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Committee on Juridical and Political Affairs. The General Assembly adopted the Program in 2016. The meeting was chaired by Ambassador Hugo Cayrús, Chair of the Committee and Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the OAS.
Five major milestones have defined how the OAS
deals with access to public information and have
significantly influenced laws in the countries
of the Hemisphere. First of all is the ruling of
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the
case known as Claude Reyes v. Chile,
in which the Court for the first time affirmed
the right of access to information as a
fundamental human right. The second milestone
was the adoption of the Inter-American
Juridical Committee (CJI) Principles in
2008; this was followed two years later by the
OAS General Assembly’s adoption of the
Inter-American Model Law; the
workshops organized by
the Department of International Law (DIL) to
support regulatory development in this field in
the region; and the General Assembly’s adoption
Inter-American Program on Access to Public
Information (the Program), in 2016.
In the Inter-American Program, the member states are urged to promote and establish a set of actions and mechanisms aimed at advancing promotion and protection of the right of access to public information; the appointment of focal points to do appropriate follow-up on its implementation is requested; and the
Department of International Law
(Secretariat for Legal Affairs)
of the OAS is tasked with coordinating it.
Pursuant to the Program’s request for the member states to exchange best practices on an annual basis, through the CAJP, and to report on progress they have made in implementing the Program, the following countries delivered their reports at the
meeting of last January 25:
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The meeting benefited from the participation of certain Focal Points that were in attendance:
Brazil’s Office of the Comptroller General; El
Salvador’s Institute for Access to Public Information; the Council for Transparency; and the Directorate for Citizen Care and Transparency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
Chile, which delivered the corresponding reports for their respective countries. The Committee highlighted its presence and commitment to public information in the region.
For its part, the DIL gave an overview of the activities it had carried out under the Inter-American Program. That presentation was delivered by Dr. Magaly McLean, coordinator for the issue of access to public information. She outlined the background to the Inter-American Program; the support that the DIL had provided to the CAJP in preparation for the meeting; and steps taken to promote the appointment of Focal Points and which had led to 18 of those officials being appointed.
She also spoke about certain aspects of the process known as Model Law 2.0. According to Ms. McLean, last year’s General Assembly had instructed the DIL to identify, in consultation with the Focal Points and taking into consideration the input of civil society, those thematic areas in which it felt that the Inter-American Model Law needed to be updated or expanded, and to refer the findings to the Inter-American Juridical Committee for follow-up.
She further stated that the task entrusted to the DIL had been understood not as a process for reviewing and amending the Model Law – whose provisions remain fully in force and reflect the highest standards of the inter-American system –but rather as an extension of some of its aspects which are still problematic, based on application of domestic laws, the experience gained over the 7 years since its adoption, and national practices – for example, unjustified, unwarranted, or discriminatory denial of information; slow delivery of information; lack of a clear and precise definition of the grounds for restricting the right of access to information; declarations of reservation, secrecy, or confidentiality; access to intelligence and counterintelligence information; over-use of exceptions in national security matters; non-existence to justify exemption from compliance; procedures for applying the damage “test”; records management; the autonomy of oversight bodies; and the lack of broad jurisdiction for all the branches of government, among other issues.
The DIL will continue to work closely with the permanent missions to the OAS, the Focal Points for the Inter-American Program for Access to Public Information, the oversight bodies, civil society, and other key actors, to produce a document that is the result of dialogue and collaborative action in order to fully accomplish the task entrusted to it by the OAS General Assembly, replicating a process and methodology similar to the one that gave rise to the Inter-American Model Law on Access to Public Information. To that end, several workshops are expected to be held during the year, for which dates and details will be announced in due course.
The Focal Point and country presentations surveyed progress that the region is currently making on the issue, and facilitated the exchange of best practices and identified common challenges enable collective response and progress on this front. They also outlined the operations of enforcement bodies charged with overseeing compliance with the rules governing this right; the practical application of the legal provisions in force; and the importance of the Inter-American Model Law as a basic guide for creating internal regulations regarding the right of access to public information.
Participants also discussed how exercise of this right impacts the transparency of action taken by public institutions; empowering civil society to demand respect for the right of access to public information and to influence public decision-making; and the process of gradually reducing corruption in the public service.
The presence of the Focal Points helped enrich the CAJP meeting and provided an opportunity to hear about the accomplishments of those who directly oversee compliance with these rules in the region on a daily basis, as well as the challenges they face.
That Committee meeting decided to: continue the practice of inviting the Focal Points to take part in these meetings and to encourage them to work closely with the OAS to implement the Inter-American Program; request the DIL to organize parallel meetings with focal points, taking advantage of their presence at future meetings, in order to collectively move forward in implementing the Inter-American Program; exchange best practices and jointly explore opportunities for further cooperation; urge member states that have not done so to install their focal points; invite countries to become part of the process of creating Model Law 2.0; request the Department of International Law to prepare a detailed rapporteur’s report; and to invite countries to send in their written reports for inclusion in that document.
Ambassador Hugo Cayrús, in wrapping up the meeting, thanked the focal points for attending, and thanked the Department of International Law for the work it had done in implementing the Program.
First Meeting of Focal Points of the Inter-American Program
on Access to Public Information
First Meeting of Focal Points of the
Inter-American Program on Access to Public
Information was held in the morning on
January 25, at the Offices of the DIL at OAS
headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Seizing the opportunity of these officials being on hand in Washington, D.C., for the CAJP meeting, the DIL was pleased to organize with them the Meeting to exchange views on the form and content of access to information in the OAS and in the region.
As the General Assembly acknowledged, the Inter-American Program focal points’ relationship with and involvement in the work being carried out by the countries through the Organization provides a wonderful opportunity for optimal communication and relationship between public information access oversight bodies and the OAS. It is, furthermore, an ideal avenue for exploring synergies and opportunities for cooperation amongst themselves, and between them and the OAS, and for advancing collectively and harmoniously following the rules and other measures to promote effective access to information as a right in the possession, custody, or control of public institutions.
This is expected to be the first of many meetings to be organized at OAS headquarters during the CAJP’s annual meeting.
📷 Photo Gallery - Meeting of Focal Points
📷 Photo Gallery - CAJP Meeting
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For further information on this matter,
please contact the Department of International Law of the Secretariat for Legal Affairs of the OAS +1 202 370 0743.