Explicit recognition of the right of access to information under international law

April 19, 2011

That a general right of access to information is included under article 19 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) will no more be open for debate. This will be expressly stated in an upcoming UN General Comment. The UN Human Rights Committee’s General comments have been used as interpretive tools the world-over for human rights provisions in international, regional and national legal instruments. The right of access to information, has for years, been considered by advocates of FOI a component of the freedom of expression guarantee under article 19 of the ICCPR, which includes the right to “seek and receive information”. That this gives a person the right to demand information was not explicitly stated. The Committee is currently reviewing its Draft General Comment No. 34 on article 19 which may remedy this. It had the second reading of this draft during its 101st session in New York, in public session, which took place from 14 March to 1 April 2011. The Committee will continue its second reading, in public session, during its 102nd session, which will take place in Geneva from 11 to 29 July.

Article 19, Open Society Justice Initiative and several other organisations made submissions to the Committee. Upon completion of the first reading of the draft, Article 19, while commending the explicit recognition that Article 19 of the ICCPR encompasses “a general right of access to information”, stated that “the draft General Comment indicates a number of weaknesses however which ought to be addressed before the General Comment is finalised. Most notably, the current provisions on the “right of access to information” overlook a number of important dimensions of proper legal protection for the right to information, including the need for an independent and autonomous oversight body, proactive disclosure of information and the protection of whistleblowers. The Committee is likely to adopt the General Comment towards the end of this year or early next year.

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