Africa Lagging Behind In Access To Information Rights

The document will be the subject of dicussion at a weekend conference in Cape Town.

Delegates are expected to adopt the draft access to information document that emphasises that access to information (ATI) is a human right of freedom of expression, essential for the recognition and achievement of every person’s civil, political and socio-economic rights, and as a mechanism to promote democratic accountability, and good governance.

The Pan African Conference was organised by the Windhoek+20 Campaign on Access to Information in Africa in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The draft document notes that access to information is instrumental to fostering access to education and health care, gender equality,  children’s rights,  a clean environment, sustainable development and the fight against corruption.

This is in line with the Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948, which guarantees that:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

The draft document, among others, calls for maximum disclosure, noting that the presumption is that all information held by public bodies is public and as such should be subject to disclosure. Only in limited circumstances set out in these principles below may disclosure be denied.

The right of access to information shall be established by law in each African country. Such law shall be binding and enforceable and based on the principle of maximum disclosure. The law shall take precedence over other conflicting laws that limit access to information. 

The process to obtain information should be simple, fast and at low or no cost and take advantage of new information and communication technologies where possible. To the greatest extent possible, information should be available in the language of the person seeking it, and in a format that is as accessible as possible.

The withholding of information should only be allowed if the body can demonstrate that there would be a significant harm if the information is released.

All persons have a right to access and correct their personal data held by third parties.

Governments, civil society and the media have an obligation to promote media and information literacy, to assist individuals and communities to ensure that all members of society can understand and take advantage of new technologies, and to be able to participate intelligently and actively in public matters, and enforce their right of access to information. Citizens should be empowered to be able to consume information critically and express their views on such information, as well as be enabled to seek corrections where applicable.