The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has called on African Governments to respect the right of access to information in their countries, reminding them of their obligations to that effect as enshrined in Article 9(1) of the African Charter and further elaborated in the Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and the Model Law on Access to Information
The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Hon. Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, made the call when she joins the international community in commemorating International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), which is observed on September 28 every year.
Recalling the 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the Special Rapporteur underscores the importance for States to ensure enjoyment of access to information. She further recalls Principle 39 of the Declaration which enjoins States to ensure that the development, use, and application of artificial intelligence, algorithms and other similar technologies by internet intermediaries are compatible with international and regional human rights and standards, and do not infringe on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as other human rights.
The Commission took the opportunity to affirm Africa’s commitment, through the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (The African Charter), to advance the right to receive information as a human right in Africa.
The Commission’s message was contained in statement issued on September 28, signed by Commissioner Topsy-Sonoo through which she said she took the opportunity to affirm Africa’s commitment, through the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (The African Charter), to advance the right to receive information as a human right in Africa.
Commissioner Topsy-Sonoo emphasized that “access to information plays a very important role in the development of accountability and responsiveness in ensuring and advancing other human rights.” She added that “availability of reliable official data and information, allows for the design of better interventions, and can potentially reduce the deficits in access to other rights, such as those related to participating in government directly or through freely chosen representatives.” She said access to information empowers citizens to be well informed, and to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes, at all levels.
She said the International Day for [Universal] Access to Information, therefore, creates an opportunity and platform to engage on discussions, at national, regional, and international level, on whether the access to information laws are doing what they were meant to do.
She noted that this year’s theme: ‘Artificial intelligence, e-governance and access to information,’ introduces an opportunity for a broad-based discussion on the role and effect of artificial intelligence and e-governance on access to information in Africa. She said the Commission, recognizing the need to better understand the legal, ethical, safety and security opportunities and challenges raised by AI, robotics and other new and emerging technologies in Africa, observed in its Resolution ACHPR/Res. 473 (EXT.OS/ XXXI) 2021: on the need to undertake a Study on human and peoples’ rights and artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other new and emerging technologies in Africa, that new and emerging technologies present both opportunities and perils for the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in Africa.
The Commission further observed that whilst making government services and information digital enhances transparency and accessibility and artificial intelligence allows for a number of benefits in society, it has to be accompanied by human rights considerations and a bridging of the digital divide.
She said it is her aspiration that State parties would consider the application of the guidance contained in Resolution in 473, taking note of how AI and e-governance affect access to information. She encouraged State Parties to develop domestic legal frameworks regulating AI and e-governance; ensure these technologies are developed and used transparently; and ensure that imported AI and e-governance systems align with the African Charter.
She observed that at a regional level, over the last decade, and notably since the adoption of the Model Law on Access to information by the Commission in 2013, the legislative landscape on access to information has evolved rapidly and significantly with many countries on the continent, having laws which anticipate and respond to the challenges associated with the evolving digital citizenship. She said the Commission commends those States which have, to date, ensured the enactment of such important laws and encourages countries which are yet to enact these laws, to continue to strongly consider their enactment.
The International Day for Universal Access to Information which originated from a meeting of civil society movements in Sofia, Bulgaria on 28 September 2002, advances the importance of greater information transparency. The day invites a commemoration of the ways in which access to information enables the work of defending human rights, restoring trust, and advancing inclusivity in the African society.