Freedom of Expression

Press Release R141/16


The Office of the Special Rapporteur joins in the Celebration of the First International Day for Universal Access to Information

September 27, 2016

Next September 28th, the first International Day for Universal Access to Information will take place. The Regional Bureau for Science of UNESCO for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Supreme Court of Justice of Paraguay, the Public Ministry of Paraguay, the Ministry of Justice Paraguay, USAID, the Center for Environmental and Social Studies (CEAMSO), and the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights will co-organize the celebrations.

This first International Day for Universal Access to Information was adopted following the Right to Know Day. Every 28September, civil society at the global level commemorates this right enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human rights. It is a new opportunity to urge governments to pass laws, create institutions and promote practices for the advancement of access to information as a fundamental right linked to freedom of expression, transparency, participation (both at the political and civil society levels), and the protection of human rights.

Freedom of information has arisen as a corollary of freedom of expression in several important international instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and the American Convention on Human Rights (1969). The legislation on freedom of information reflects the fundamental premise that all information held by governments and government institutions is in principle public and can only be withheld if there are legitimate reasons not to disclose it, as privacy and national security grounds. Exceptions are to be established by law and, in such cases, the State has to prove that the disclosure of information may harm the protected interest in more a severe way than preventing access to it.

This year the celebration is particularly important, among other reasons, because it is the first anniversary of Agenda for Sustainable Development, in which access to information and press freedom became one of the specific targets to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 16 to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

It also is an instance aimed at coordinating efforts among key actors in the region, to reflect and transmit a clear message about the need to further strengthen this right from different places. It is as well an opportunity to strengthen public awareness about its relevance and the importance of the media within this context.

What is the status of the legislation of this right in Latin America?

Until a few years ago, when the culture of secrecy prevailed in several countries in the region, the main problem was the lack of legislation and mechanisms to ensure access to information as a right, as well as effective tools for citizens requiring public information held by the State. In 1990, only 13 countries worldwide had adopted national laws on freedom of information. At present, more than 100 laws are passed and there are another 20 or 30 under consideration. In the American hemisphere, there are now 23 countries in the region that adopted laws and created institutions to enforce the right of access to public information. Most of these advances occurred in the last decade, thanks to the positive influence of the inter-American human rights system, UNESCO and the extraordinary activism of civil society in the region.

The Claude Reyes vs. Chile trial at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is also celebrating 10 years in 2016, which marked a jurisprudential milestone by becoming the first international court to recognize that access to information is a human right, as part of the right to freedom of expression. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression had promoted progress in this area through its various mechanisms and, together with the victims, they were able to present the case before the Court. In this regard, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression approved in 2000 was the first to recognize that everyone has the right to access public information held by the State.

More recently, countries such as Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay approved laws on access to public information and are now at the implementation stage. Just a few days ago, Argentina joined the other 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that already have access laws. Many of these countries that have institutions or specific bodies for implementing and making effective access to public information, have formed the Transparency Network for Access to Information (RTA). Despite these advances and the approval of legal frameworks related to the issue of access to public information, a number of them continue to face serious challenges, particularly in the implementation phase and consolidation of institutions and bodies to monitor and implement this right.

In this respect, the judicial sector in the region has also taken important steps and achieved a consensual commitment through the Ibero-American Judicial Summit and the Ibero-American Network of Judicial Schools, to advance the agenda of freedom of expression, access to public information, transparency and security of the journalists. National courts play a fundamental role in the security and protection of the fundamental right of access to information through judicial decisions that develop and raise the standards of access to information.

What will happen during the day?

As seen, the promotion of public interest information and transparency is a task that runs throughout the year, but the fact of having one international day is important for advocacy.

Next28th of September, Asuncion (Paraguay) will host the First Regional Celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information. It will consist of an open and participatory activity with interactive panels to discuss and reflect on the main challenges for the agenda of access to public information in Latin America. More than one hundred actors from the government, civil society organizations, multilateral agencies, general public are expected to participate.

For more information and activities on this day:

·         Invitation (in Spanish)

·         Agenda (in Spanish)