NEWS COMMENTARY ON INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION TO BE CELEBRATED ANNUALLY ON SEPTEMBER 28
A 13 year- campaign by global civil society groups for a day to be dedicated to Universal Access to Information has paid off. The Executive Board of UNESCO on October 19, this year, adopted a resolution recommending that September 28 be recognized as Access to Information Day.
And so on November 17, this year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) General Conference voted to designate September 28 as “International Day for the Universal Access to Information.” For global civil society and like-minded organisations, it was welcome news and precisely so, for the significant benefits of the day. The International Day for the Universal Access to Information does not only seek to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information but also provide a framework for the enjoyment of the right of access to information by all people.
The UNESCO Executive Board could not have stated it better when it noted that “the establishment of a specific date provides a coherent message at the international level and facilitates coordination of joint initiatives on public awareness and elucidation by organizations in the coherence of a universally recognized day.” There is no doubt that, access to information is a fundamental human right - to seek, access and receive information.
It will establish a legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions. It is guaranteed by several protocols and charters such as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 4 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
Since 2002, after a conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, international civil society advocates have been observing September 28 as “Right to Know Day.”
Many more civil society platforms such as the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), African Freedom of Information Center (AFIC) amongst other regional and national level organisations and coalitions have engaged in several activities and vigorous campaigns to push for the adoption of the international day. The commitment by African civil society groups and African countries to push the UNESCO resolution was highly instructive.
According to Nigeria-based Freedom of Information Campaigner Edetaen Ojo, the institution of the Day, represents a major advancement in the 13-year quest by global civil society to have a day set aside annually to raise awareness about the importance of access to information throughout the world. He observed that the day is a gift to the world that Africa can be justly proud of.”
Certainly, the day is a great milestone, which also signals the beginning of more work ahead. International civil society still bears the onerous task of translating activism into real adoption of ATI legislation by many more countries.
They need not relent in their efforts until there exist, implementation mechanisms for such legislation to become meaningful to ordinary citizens. It is important to commend delegates of the 38th Session of the UNESCO’s General Conference in Paris. They really walked the talk by moving the access to information campaign to an enviable height with the adoption of September 28 to be marked as the “International Day for the Universal Access to Information.”
The long wait is now over. Kudos to international civil society, and more grease to their elbows for the task ahead!!!
BY: ABIGAIL LARBI, PROGRAMME OFFICER FOR MEDIA FOUNDATION FOR WEST AFRICA, ACCRA.