Ten years ago, a handful of committed and passionate activists met in Bulgaria to discuss ways to advance the recognition and the implementation of the right to information, and the Freedom of Information Advocates Network was born. Among those gathered were Inese Voika and Linda Austere from Transparency International Latvia.
Back then, only 42 countries had laws recognising the right to information, although it had no recognition as a human right by international courts. The small community of 20 member organisations was up for a challenge: most countries in the world still needed to enact legislation and, more importantly, make sure the right would in fact be enjoyed by people around the world.
Ten years later, the small community has grown to number over 200 organisations and 600 individuals campaigning and advocating for greater access to information, transparency and accountability in all regions of the world. Thanks to their enthusiastic work, 50 countries have passed legislation to protect the right to information in the past decade, with many more countries embedding the right in their constitutions.
When it comes to setting standards, there were big successes brought about by members of this small but active community. Both the Inter-American and the European Court of Human Rights have officially recognised the right, there is now a Council of Europe Convention on Access to Information, and there is global recognition of the right by the UN Human Rights Committee.
An expanding force for free information
The community of organisations working to promote freedom of information has grown enormously, with over 40 chapters of Transparency International actively involved. Organisations have campaigned for this right, trained citizens and public officials, and even litigated in many cases to ensure the right was respected and legislation implemented.
Worldwide, millions of citizens have used the new possibilities to find out what their governments are doing to invest funds in education and health, to keep authorities accountable in the delivery of social and other services, to bring much needed light into procurement and policy making processes. From revealing irregularities in the expenses claimed by British Members of Parliament to unveiling US President Obama’s beer recipe, laws on access to information have proved of infinite value to researchers and journalists pursuing stories – in part because they enable reliance on legal sources of information rather than confidential leaks.
Future challenges for freedom of information
Much more still lies ahead, though. Even if almost half of the countries of the world now recognise the right to free information on paper, the other half still needs to adopt laws to ensure the right is officially recognised. Long standing local campaigns, supported by many Transparency International chapters, are actively working in this direction.
And even when such laws are in place, in reality many obstacles still remain to ensure people actually have access to information that is relevant to them.
Freedom of information photo contest results
Earlier this year, we reported on a photo contest organised by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network. A total of 1000 euros was distributed among the winners, thanks to the generous support of the Open Society Institute. The jury was formed by:
- Christian Mihr, Director of Reporters Without Borders, Germany
- Richard Lee, Communications Director of Open Society Institute, South Africa
- Andrea Figari, Global Programmes Manager at Transparency International and FOIAnet Steering Committee Member
We’re pleased to share the three winning entries from the contest:
“The other access” by Ranaivosoa Tolojanahary from Antananarivo, Madagascar
Despite the closure of the office, a young girl takes note of the information published by tha national statistics instistute, INSTAT.
“I have a right to know” by Ramesh Soni, from Dhar, India
Women reading news together in a small village of Rajasthan
“The Godfather” by Rajarshi Chowdhury, from Bangalore, India
The guy in the coat is a money lender in one of the cluttered market areas in Bangalore. The lending system has minimal transparency, and the poor and the illiterate stand robbed of all rights to information.
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