UNESCO Bangkok launches a regional dialogue on freedom of information in the Mekong countries

UNESCO Bangkok is launching a regional dialogue on Freedom of Information (FOI) in the Mekong countries, with the first meeting to be held in Bangkok from 12 to 14 October 2015, in partnership with the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

Bringing together local civil society organizations, international NGOs and FOI experts, the event will emphasize on the role of the civil society and on regional and international cooperation to improve access to public information in the Mekong region.

The current international and regional contexts offer an important window of opportunity to step up efforts in this field. The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has just been adopted. And the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015 will deepen the regional integration. In this context, the Mekong countries will be facing new opportunities and challenges for which more transparency and equal access to information can be a strong asset.

The interest for FOI as a development tool however is unequally shared and relatively new in the region. The situation also vary significantly when it comes to legal protection or actual practice of the right to public information. In this context, this meeting aims at assessing the current state of FOI in the Mekong countries, sharing good practices in advocating or exercising right to information and identifying ways forward to promote regional cooperation in this field.

Around 40 participants from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam will be attending the meeting: media organizations, FOI advocates, Human Rights defenders, as well as organizations dedicated to development issues such as environmental protection or gender equality.

Stating that all people should be able to access information held by public bodies, FOI is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression. It plays a key role in promoting good governance and is closely linked to sustainable development goals such as the need to eradicate poverty, to ensure inclusive societies or to protect environments.

This regional dialogue on FOI is part of the project on “Promoting democracy and freedom of expression” funded by the Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency (SIDA) for 2014-2017 and implemented by UNESCO.