Freedom of Expression

Press Release R143/16

 "International Day for Universal Access to Information"

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression welcomes positive measures adopted by Member States to ensure access to information in the Americas


September 28, 2016


Washington, D.C. - On the occasion of the Right to Know Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) applauds recent measures adopted by Argentina, the United States, and Peru, to ensure the right to access to information in the Americas according to international human rights standards.


On September 14th, 2016, Argentina adopted a Law on Access to Public Information, joining the 22 other nations in the hemisphere that have passed similar legislation to ensure the effective exercise of the right to access to public information by their citizens, bringing their domestic laws into line with the inter-American standards on the issue. The new law recognizes the governing principles of maximum disclosure, good faith, and nondiscrimination that must govern public administration in order to guarantee the full exercise of the right of access to information. It also establishes a Public Information Access Agency within the Executive Branch as a specialized body for the guarantee of this right, and the obligation imposed upon other branches of the State to create similar bodies.


On September 12, 2016, the government of Peru established a working group mandated with drafting a bill for the creation of an autonomous office [National Authority of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data] to promote and ensure effective implementation of the right to information in the country. Peru is the only country in the region whose law on access to information (Law No. 27806 on Transparency and Access to Public Information, enacted in 2002) did not establish an oversight entity.


On June 30th, 2016 the United States passed the FOIA Improvement Act 2016. The FOIA Improvement Act 2016 amends the previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), in various positive ways. The Act codifies the presumption of openness, meaning that in applying the FOIA Federal agencies should follow the principle "in the case of doubt, openness prevails", as well as the principle of good faith by imposing on the agencies the obligation to motivate its responses and inform the person making the information request of her rights. The Act also seeks to modernize disclosure procedures by strengthening the proactive disclosure of information in digital formats and incorporates into FOIA oversight of the requests of information processed, the disclosures made, the exemptions applied, and the appeals filed by each agency, as well as all data concerning the application of the procedures set out in FOIA.


Also, on August 2016, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, delivered to the government of Argentina a series of declassified documents that were collected by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies regarding Argentina’s military dictatorship. The United States has delivered similar declassified documents at high-level meetings with the Presidents of Brazil in 2014 and Chile in 2015.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur has reiterated on different occasions that "the right of access to information is a critical tool for citizen oversight of the State and public administration." Ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms are also concrete steps towards the achievement of the goals set forth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Likewise, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has stated that victims of serious human rights violations and their relatives, as well as society as a whole, have the right to know the truth about atrocities committed in the past. Governments should never withhold information concerning gross violations of human rights.


The Office of the Special Rapporteur welcomes these measures and encourages other States to adopt all necessary steps to ensure their legal and institutional frameworks reflect international standards on the right to access to information.