Access to Information Laws
Access to Information can be defined as the right to seek, receive and impart information held by public bodies. It is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states that the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
Access to Information has also been enshrined as a constituent of freedom of expression in other major international instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the American Convention on Human Rights (1969), the UN Convention Against Corruption, Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean and the Arhus Convention.
Access to Information legislation reflects the fundamental premise that all information held by governments and governmental institutions is in principle public and may only be withheld if there are legitimate reasons, such as typically privacy and security, for not disclosing it. Over the past 10 years, the right to information has been recognized by an increasing number of countries, including developing ones, through the adoption of a wave of Access to Information laws. As of 2021, there are at least 128 countries that have ratified such laws and enacted implementations that render the right to information possible.
UNESCO’s mandate as set out in its 1945 Constitution specifically calls on the Organization to “promote the free flow of ideas by word and image.” Freedom of information is also central in the framework of the World Summit of the Information Society, which has reaffirmed universal access to information as cornerstones of inclusive knowledge societies. Further, the relevance of Access to Information has also been highlighted in the Brisbane Declaration on Freedom of Information: The Right to Know (2010), the Maputo Declaration on Fostering Freedom of Expression, Access to Information ad Empowerment of People (2008) and the Dakar Declaration on Media and Good Governance (2005).
Every year on the 28th of September, UNESCO and its intergovernmental programs—the International Programme for Development of Communication and the Information for All Programme—observe the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), now recognised as a UN-wide day of celeberations. The International Day provides a platform and frame for all the stakeholders to participate in international discussions on policy and guidelines in the area of access to information. For more information about the International Day for Universal Access to Information, please visit the dedicated website.