Recognising the Fundamental Right of Access to Information: An Interview with Rachel Hanna

Yesterday, the world marked International Day for Universal Access to Information and we spoke to Rachel Hanna to learn more.

Rachel Hanna, Legal Researcher and Campaigner, Access Info Europe celebrates the 28th of September- International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) by speaking to Youth Time and reflecting on what has been done during this passing year to create a platform for all stakeholders to take part in international discussions on policy and guidelines in access to information.

She also comments on this year’s theme “The Right to Know – Building Back Better with Access to Information”, and further gives us some tips on how youth can exercise their right to information, and why it’s important for us to consider it as a fundamental right.

On this note, Hanna introduces us to the Right to Know Declaration, which calls for a broad recognition of access to information as a fundamental right, covering all branches of power.

For more insight on this, and not only, keep on reading and join with the worldwide celebration of this day closely related to freedom of speech, transparency, and people’s participation in society. 

 

COVID-19 and the Right of Access to Information 

Starting our interview, she states that the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted where we have established this right and where there is still work to do to strengthen and protect it.

“During the pandemic we have seen just how important the right of access to information is, and how the realisation of this right depends not only on a strong national law on paper, but proper implementation and a culture of transparency in practice.” 

In terms of international discussions on access to information, before the pandemic, there was international recognition of the importance of this right; she recalls. 

As we have seen last year, the UNESCO General Assembly declared 28 September as the IDUAI, in 2015. 

“In the same year, all United Nations Member States adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, with Goal 16 recognising the importance of public access to information, and indicator 16.10.2 measuring the “number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.”

“The importance of strengthening this right has picked up momentum again at the international level, and some of these developments have been a direct consequence of the pandemic,” says Hanna, who runs Access Info’s legal analysis programmes, and conducts research into the right of access to information and specific areas such as public procurement. 

While giving us a brief background on the first UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption (June 2021), she mentions its Political Declaration recognizes the commitment of UN Member States to respect, promote and protect the freedom to seek, receive, and publish information concerning corruption. 

“It also calls on Member States to take concrete steps to ensure that the public has effective access to this information, including by adopting necessary regulations and enhancing bodies responsible for facilitating access to information.”

The conversation is continuing to develop at the international level, Hanna elaborates.

“What we need now is for these international commitments and standards to be translated into national level laws and actions. This is extremely timely and important as access to information laws and their proper implementation at all levels of government can deliver the transparency necessary to help societies build back from the global pandemic.”

This message, she believes, is reinforced through the theme for this year’s IDUAI. 

 

The Right to Know Declaration 

In this part of the piece, she highlights the collaboration between Access Info Europe, UNESCO and the Open Government Partnership on the creation of the community led Right to Know Declaration. 

This Declaration calls for a broad recognition of access to information as a fundamental right, covering all branches of power, at all levels of government, and that the right is overseen by strong independent bodies, such as information commissioners, with powers to sanction failure to comply with the right.  

“It states that the right of access to information should apply to all information that is needed for the public to hold the government to account and to participate in decision-making.”

Therefore, she explains, it is important that this Declaration refers to essential anti-corruption instruments such as open company registers and registers of lobbyists. 

The Declaration, in her words, also includes cutting-edge issues such as algorithmic transparency, as well as digitalisation of information so that it can be opened. 

IMG Rachel
Rachel Hanna

“We saw during the pandemic how having information digitised helped governments have a speedy, evidence-based response, and permitted transparency so that the public could follow developments.”

This Right to Know Declaration will be discussed in the panels to be held yesterday, on 28 September and today on 29 September, as part of the events organised by UNESCO to mark this day. 

Feedback from the panels on this text will be compiled, and will be discussed at two Right to Know policy discussions to be organised with the global right to information community. It will then be finalised as a community document, initiated by UNESCO and arising out of IDUAI 2021. 

 

The Right to Information as a Fundamental Right 

As a conclusive mark, she reminds us all that the right to information is a basic fundamental right, and is one that is linked to freedom of expression, recognised by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee.

“As citizens, we therefore have the right to access almost all information held by the government, and while there are exceptions to accessing this information, these exceptions should be applied fairly.” she explains, by further encouraging everyone to have confidence when using their right to information. 

“If your access to information/documents request is denied, and you believe that an exception has been applied unfairly and that there is indeed a public interest in the sought information, appeal.”

If you are unsure how to do so, you can contact the Access Info Europe team and they can guide you. 

Hanna encourages youth to get involved with their right to information, such as by submitting information requests at the local, national, or the EU level.  

Anyone interested can make requests at the EU level via the AsktheEU.org platform: all you need is to register with your email address, and then write and send your request.

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On this day last year, together with Hanna, we discussed the connection between basic human rights and the right to stay informed.

International Day for Universal Access to Information

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