The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, joins the international community in commemorating the International Day for Universal Access to Information, which is celebrated on 28 September.
The International Day for Universal Access to Information was proclaimed on 15 October 2019 at the 74th UN General Assembly, following initial designation of the day by the UNESCO General Conference in November 2015.
In view of the importance of the right to access information, the Commission called for designation of this commemoration through Resolution ACHPR/Res.222 (LI) 2012 To Modify The Declaration Of Principles On Freedom Of Expression To Include Access To Information And Request For A Commemorative Day On Freedom Of Information, which was adopted during the 51st Ordinary Session in May 2012, underscoring “the importance of setting aside a day to commemorate access to information as a way to raise awareness and emphasise the importance of this right, and promote the ideals of good governance and accountability.”
The right of access to information is enshrined in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in addition to other international human rights instruments including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Furthermore, the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted by the Commission during its 65th Ordinary Session in November 2019, elaborates on the scope of the right of access to information in Part III of the Declaration, from Principle 26 to Principle 36, covering issues such as: proactive disclosure; the duty to create, keep, organize and maintaininformation; the need for an oversight mechanism established by law to monitor, promote and protect the right of access to information; protected disclosures in the public interest; sanctions for failure to proactively disclose information; to name a few.
In these unprecedented times during the Covid-19 pandemic, the significance of the right of access to information cannot be overstated. The uncertainty and disruption wrought by the pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of fundamental human rights, not least of which is the right of access to information.
It is for this reason that the Commission adopted the Model Law on Access to Information in Africain order to assist African States in the formulation, adoption, or alternatively review, of access to information legislation and to ensure effective implementation of the laws.
When the process of drafting the Model Law Project started, only five (5) countries on the African continent had adopted access to information Laws; however currently at least twenty-four (24) States in Africa have enacted access to information laws.
The Commission takes this opportunity to call on the State Parties to the African Charter which have not yet done so, to enhance national level protection of the right of access to information by adopting legislation which ensures promotion and protection of this important right.
Commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Informationaffords us the opportunity to collectively renew commitment to creating an environment where the right of access to information is promoted, protected and realized.