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“Right to Know-Building Back Better with Access to Information”: AFIC and Partners Commemorate IDUAI 2021

Over 200 participants representing Inter-Governmental organizations, Government, Private Sector, Civil Society Organisations, the Media, and the UN system gathered online and in person at the Kampala Serena Hotel, Uganda, for a public dialogue to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) 2021. The event was, organized by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre with support from UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Uganda, in collaboration with the African Union Commission, the Ministry of ICT, and National Guidance of Uganda and Twaweza East Africa.

Preamble

Whereas, Access to Information is essential in helping Governments address daunting challenges affecting the delivery of basic services in Africa;

Referring to, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that: “Every individual shall have the right to receive information and the right to express and disseminate his/her opinions within the law.”

Appreciating that, the right of Access to Information has long is recognized by International and Regional Human Rights Instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Six treaties of the African Union including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;

Acknowledging that, the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development plan of action adopted by all the 193 United Nations (UN) Member States to protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone recognizes public Access to Information, within Goal 16 covering the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies (target 16.10.2);

Underscoring that, Access to information is no longer a privilege but a right enshrined under numerous international instruments; 

Recognizing that, access to information is a human right that serves the entire public, including women, the youth, persons with disabilities, displaced persons, among others. The youth, in particular, are at the heart of Africa’s development. These special groups require information to facilitate their central role to play in ensuring reform of African institutions and to champion youth-led accountability;

Affirming that, the 2021 global theme for the International Day for Universal Access to Information is The Right to Know – Building Back Better with Access to Information;

Noting that, this year’s edition of IDUAI highlights the importance of expanding access to information laws, and their implementation worldwide to build back strong institutions for sustainable development and to uphold the vision of information as a public good, as well as to strengthen international cooperation in implementing the right to information as a fundamental right;

Observing that, while the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights obliges all AU Member States to submit state reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on implementing the African Charter, many countries, have violated the treaty by not submitting respective state reports for over eight years; 

Further observing that; while 26 African countries have adopted respective national access to information laws, although they are challenged with implementation, 28 African Union Member States are yet to enact and implement specific laws on access to information, representing a lack of commitment to the realization of SDG 16.10.2 and violating the six African Union treaties that guarantee the Right to Information. 

Acknowledging that, key stakeholders represented during the Public Dialogue to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information have on this 28th Day of September 2021 committed to promoting the adoption and effective implementation of the Right of Access to Information, and to collaboratively ensure open governance and public access to and use of accurate information towards effective service delivery and value for money in Africa. 

Participants agreed on the following issues, experiences, lessons, and recommendations to better the implementation of the right to information in Africa;

Key Issues

  1. Public Access to Information is a fundamental human right and is a cornerstone for the enjoyment of all other human rights.
  2. Across Africa, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted and significantly affected lives. 
  3. There is a lack of implementation of the Access to Information laws and compliance with set regulations. 
  4. There is a significant number of countries without specific laws on access to information.
  5. There is limited responsiveness and feedback mechanisms regarding access to information, reporting on the status of implementation of the right to information across member states.
  6. Significantly limited disclosure of information frustrates citizens’ access and; participation in governance and monitoring of public contracts which in turn limits transparency and accountability. The lack of access to information continues to affect sustainable development in Africa.
  7. Timely disclosure of accurate information influences citizen participation in service delivery monitoring, thus, influencing decisions on how they are governed. And indeed, access to reliable information saves lives. Misinformation and rumors can cost lives.
  8. Unequal Access to Information is undermining the efforts of governments and the international community to address the widening inequality gap.
  9. There is a need for free, accessible, reliable, and independent information as a foundation upon which democratic societies are built. 
  10. Technology and social media have been used to spread false information intentionally. This has happened when the media reports wrong information that is not independent and unverified.
  11. There is a general lack of awareness about the access to information legal framework among the citizens and public officials.
  12.  There is limited funding towards the implementation of access to information which continues to be a major challenge in many countries. 
  13. There is a limited capacity of Government stakeholders to implement and follow up feedback from the citizens. In addition, countries have not reported on the status of implementation of the right to information laws as required.

Commitments

  1. The African Union and UNESCO committed to supporting government and civil society campaigns towards the adoption and effective implementation of access to information laws.
  2. The African Union committed to working with various stakeholders to advance the right to information guaranteed by the AU treaties.
  3. UNESCO committed to providing technical support to the rest of the East African countries that are yet to enact ATI laws and support advocacy for implementing Access to Information in Africa. 
  4. UNESCO committed to supporting African Union Member states and Civil Society organizations to achieve the SDGs by promoting Access to Information and strengthening other enabling legal frameworks. 
  5. Government representatives and other stakeholders committed to increasing public participation in service delivery processes through access to information 
  6. All stakeholders committed to calling on all African Union member states to adopt and implement access to information. 
  7. The media and CSOs committed to promoting access to information by raising awareness on its significance to the realization of other rights.

Recommendations

  1. UNESCO and its partners should continue to support the AU Member States and other stakeholders to promote the realization of the SDGs
  2. Member States should comply with the international and regional legal framework on access to Information. 
  3. Member states without specific laws on Access to information should adopt these legislations to promote access to information.
  4. Member States should incorporate access to information in their national budgets and the parliamentary rules of procedure.
  5. We encourage development partners to support African Union states and Civil Society Organizations in promoting the effective implementation of the right to information. 
  6. States ought to strengthen their legal framework for the effective implementation of access to information
  7. Civil Society should continue to engage and build the capacity of the citizens on access to information
  8. AFIC and its partners should organize annual RTI events and conferences to create platforms for experience sharing and learning.
  9. We encourage the media to prioritize advocacy for access to information, develop articles on implementing the right to information laws, and demand accountability for improved service delivery.

Conclusion

The public dialogue organized under the theme “The Right to Know – Building Back Better with Access to Information” has been a forum for stakeholders to share and learn from the experiences, challenges, and knowledge gathered on the state of adoption and implementation of the right to information in Africa. The issues, lessons, recommendations identified during this dialogue are expected to drive the advocacy for the adoption and implementation of access to information laws in the region, in the realization of inclusive service delivery and the SDGs.