Beirut, 30 September 2019 – Societies need to make the right to information real. In fact, to achieve SDG16, in particular SDG 16 target 10 on achieving “public access to information and fundamental freedoms”, states should recognize and enact the right of all citizens to access to public records and government administration records. The universal access to information in the public domain and its free flow are indeed a key component of democratic and modern societies.
Against this backdrop, and on the occasion of the “International Day for Universal Access to Information” (28 September), UNESCO Beirut partnered with Lebanon’s Ministry of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR) and the NGO Lebanese Transparency Association (LTA) to organize a conference about “The Prospects and Challenges of Implementing the “Right to Access To Information Law” in Lebanon. Lebanon passed a legislation in 2016 on the access to information, but its implementation remains problematic and subject to many challenges.
The opening ceremony, held at Monroe Hotel in Beirut, under the patronage of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform Dr May Chidiac, was attended by high-level personalities, including Minister Chidiac, UNESCO Beirut Director Dr Hamed Al Hamami, LTA’s Board Member Dr Mosbah Majzoub, UNESCO Beirut’s Programme Specialist for Communication & Information Mr George Awad, representatives of UN agencies and international organizations, representatives of the embassies of the United States, France, Italy, Argentina, and Oman, as well as lawmakers, journalists, and academics.
In his speech, Dr Hamed al Hamami said : “The universal access to information is particularly relevant to the 2030 Agenda. Since the adoption in 2016 of Resolution 38 C / 70, UNESCO has been celebrating the “International Day for Universal Access to Information” on 28 September”. Al Hamami added: “Knowledge societies must be built on four pillars: freedom of expression; universal access to information and knowledge; respect for cultural and linguistic diversity; and quality education for all. UNESCO is committed to supporting Member States' efforts to introduce knowledge societies to empower disadvantaged communities through increased access to information and exchange of information and knowledge”. Al Hamami mentioned that “two intergovernmental programmes of UNESCO, the Information for All Program (IFAP) and the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), contribute to raising awareness on the right to access to information, and reinforce national capacities in this regard”.
As to Dr Majzoub, he called for the effective implementation of the right to access to information law in Lebanon, which the Parliament enacted in 2016, stressing that ensuring the public’s access to information is a key step in fighting corruption and establishing transparency.
In her turn, Minister Chidiac spoke of the efforts OMAR is doing to raise awareness on the right of access to information, and to train government employees on digitization. Chidiac mentioned that OMSAR has developed a National Action Plan on the implementation of the right of access t to information law, and is awaiting the Government’s official approval to kick-start this action plan.
The first panel, on “The role of the Executive and the Judiciary in guaranteeing the right of access to information”, moderated by the Executive Director of LTA Julien Courson, featured interventions by former Judge and MP Georges Okais, former MP Ghassan Mkhaiber, and Judge Mireille Dawood. It explored the challenges and obstacles to the effective implementation of the right to access to information law, and the measures that the judiciary and the executive powers need to take in order to overcome such obstacles.
The second panel, on “The right of access to information from the CSOs and media perspective”, moderated by the Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development Ziad Abdel Samad, featured interventions by OMSAR’s Anti-Corruption Officer Mrs Natacha Sarkis, journalist Racha Abou Zaki, and LTA’s Programs and Grassroots Manager Mr Ayman Dandach. The panelists explored the challenges for journalists and civil society organizations to access public information, and their role of advocacy and awareness-raising on the right of access to information.
It is worth noting that this event was organized in the framework of the Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists funded by Sweden.