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Access to Information gains momentum in New York

“As a country that has experienced conflict and a major public health crisis such as the Ebola pandemic, Liberia appreciates the value of access to information in combating problems of this scale, and knows firsthand what lack of information can mean for a society – the difference between life and death.”

This statement was part of opening remarks at a meeting in New York this week, made by the Ambassador of Liberia to the UN, H.E. Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr.

He was chairing the first of several meetings aimed at building support for the UN General Assembly to recognize 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

Member States at UNESCO resolved in 2015 through resolution 38 C/70 that 28 September should be recognized in this way. Now, at the request of a civil society coalition called the African Platform for Access to Information(link is external), Member States at the UN are mobilizing for a similar resolution.

At this week’s meeting in New York, participants linked to various Member States, including Cuba, Costa Rica, Ireland, Lesotho and Sierra Leone, spoke favourably about the initiative.

Motivating the case, Ambassador Saah Kemayah Sr. noted that the Sustainable Development Goal 16.10.2 recognizes access to information. He added that this target is also “an enabler of all other sustainable development goals … none of these goals can be achieved without access to information”.

Also speaking at the meeting was Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO. He presented the background on how Member States at UNESCO came to adopt the day, and signaled further that other parts of the UN family could possibly become involved if the General Assembly decided to recognize the date.

Berger went on to affirm: “UNESCO is ready to continue expanding the number of places where the Day is observed with impact, such as this upcoming 28 September where at least 20 countries will commemorate the occasion”.

In addition, the UNESCO director pointed to the value of the Day in promoting the monitoring of progress on SDG 16.10.2. He signaled there would be a side-event to the UN High Level Political Forum where UNESCO would release a report on its tracking of guarantees on access to information in 43 countries.

H.E. Saah Kemayah Sr. observed that monitoring and evaluation of access to information can enhance delivery. This point was echoed by Massimo Tommasoli of IDEA, who said: “Monitoring provides a reality check on policy-making which sometimes proceeds without evidence. It is also a good way to check on performance”.

Berger pledged to the Ambassador that the initiative at the UN would be brought to the attention of Member State delegations at UNESCO who in turn might wish to liaise with their counterparts in New York on the matter.

On his side, the Ambassador said he would continue meeting with Member States at the UN, as well as with the president of the General Assembly, the Africa Group and the observer mission of the African Union. “I am of the strongest conviction that the Day will be approved before the year’s end,” he said.

APAI’s Gilbert Sendugwa told the meeting that his coalition had developed a zero draft text, based on the UNESCO resolution, and which could be a basis for the consideration of the UN Member States.

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