Fifteen years ago today, civil society organisations decided to create International Right to Know Day as a way of increasing public awareness of their fundamental human right to information (RTI), and to pressure governments to make this right a reality.
In that 15 years, there has been remarkable progress – the number of countries recognised by the UN with either RTI laws or national regulations has more than doubled, from 48 to 119. In just the past year, this has included countries from across the world, such as Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Lebanon, Argentina, the Bahamas, and East Timor. Over 40 other countries are currently considering similar initiatives.
Of all the regions, the Middle East and North Africa has been the most limited in their progress. Today, in recognition of this, we are releasing analyses of the new RTI law in Iran, which is slowly being implemented and the current bill going through parliament in Morocco, which is attempting to make the right available to all people in the country. We have also produced updated infographics, setting out the status of the right to know around the world, and in each region.
There has also been an enormous improvement in the recognition of RTI at the international level. The recognition of the importance of this right in enabling public participation and protecting other rights has grown from a few references in international documents to a vast array of international and regional treaties setting obligations to protect and enable RTI. This culminated in the 2015 inclusion of access to information in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, as a target in Goal 16 on “promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. It commits all countries to, among other things, take steps to ensure the public have access to information and are able to full participate in decision-making, as well as to substantially reduce corruption, by 2030.
In July 2017, ARTICLE 19 released a report reviewing global progress towards achieving Goal 16, and examining how RTI improves sustainable development. The report contains case studies on the use of RTI by communities to improve their access to other rights, including the right to water, health, education, and improving gender equality.
However, RTI was not mentioned very much at the UN SDGs’ review body – the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) – this year, either in the high level discussions or in the countries’ Voluntary National Reviews, except in the cases of Kenya and Brazil, where civil society made a concerted effort to include the issue in the national reports or their unofficial civil society reports. The HLPF has however agreed to review Goal 16 in 2019, including access to information.
Unfortunately, the international bodies that set the standards that govern our lives have not kept apace with improvements at the national level. A new report released this week from David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, sharply criticizes the United Nations for not having an access to information policy despite the fact a majority of its members do. Only a handful of UN bodies, including UNESCO and UN Environment, have adopted policies, however they still fall far short.
Nonetheless, it is no longer inconceivable that we will soon see the day when the right to information is recognised in the law of every country in the world, if not fully implemented. If progress made over the past decade continues, this could happen by 2030, if not sooner.
Happy Right to Know Day!