A significant step has been taken to make public access to information – a key target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a reality.
On 15 October 2019, the 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The resolution was adopted by consensus following a presentation by the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Liberia to the United Nations, Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah. who tabled the proposal and initiated negotiations for the resolution that was co-sponsored by 29 Member States of the United Nations.
Justifying the need for the resolution, Kemayah stated that access to information is essential for the democratic functioning of society and that none of the SDGs can be realized without access to information. He emphasized that “as a country that has experienced conflict and a major public health crisis with the Ebola pandemic, Liberia appreciates that lack of access to information could mean the difference between life and death.” He called upon Member States to create the biggest global platform for Governments, civil society organizations, citizens and development partners to reflect on the importance of access to information by adopting the resolution.
The resolution was supported by six UN Member States as main co-sponsors, alongside Liberia were: Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and Ukraine. Another 23 countries joined in co-sponsoring the resolution upon its adoption.
The International Day for Universal Access to Information was initially adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2015. Following the 38 C/Resolution 57, UNESCO marked 28 September as the “International Day for Universal Access to Information” (IDUAI), to raise awareness of the right to seek and receive information, an integral component of the right to freedom of expression, and as key to sustainable development. Since 2016, UNESCO has both celebrated the Day and highlighted why the right to access information is an enabler of all Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda.
The plan to establish an international day for access to information was initiated at the 2011 Pan African Conference on Access to Information. The event was organized with the support of UNESCO and the African Union in order to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1991 Windhoek Declaration, which in turn had led the UNGA to declare 3 May each year as World Press Freedom Day.
The 2011 conference was followed up by a civil society coalition, the African Platform for Access to Information, which successfully led advocacy efforts at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in May 2012, at UNESCO in 2015, and most recently at the UNGA, for Member States to commemorate 28 September as a special date on the international calendar.
Commenting on the significance of the resolution, Gilbert Sendugwa, Africa Freedom of information Centre (AFIC) and one of the lead campaigners for the resolution, noted:
“This is special. It has been co-sponsored by 29 countries from all regions of the world, signifying recognition by Member States that every individual, irrespective of nationality or color (you may need to reference gender etc., if you are referring to nationality and color. Otherwise leave it at ‘every individual) need information for development. We observe, especially in Africa, that individual agencies among the 24 countries that have adopted ATI laws neither allocate budgetary provision nor put in place procedures for effective implementation. This resolution creates a platform to discuss how to overcome these huddles”.
Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of the Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and another lead campaigner, concurs, adding:
“This resolution will create impetus for realization of all SDGs and 16.10.2 in particular. it has created a platform to engage 70 Member States of the United Nations which are yet to adopt access to information laws, to do so. More importantly, it has created a global platform to make public resources work for women and other marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities.”