The African Group, comprising permanent national delegations of African countries to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France, is considering various options of support to the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) Declaration as the APAI Working Group intensifies its campaign for UNESCO’s endorsement of the Declaration.
The African Group set up a committee at its plenary session held in Paris on September 13, 2013 to discuss and advise the entire body on how to proceed on a request from the APAI Working Group for it to facilitate the endorsement of the APAI Declaration by UNESCO’s Executive Board and ultimately, the UNESCO General Conference.
The setting up of the committee, to be coordinated by the Permanent Delegation of Uganda to UNESCO, followed an advocacy visit to the African Group by representatives of the APAI Working Group.
The APAI Working Group delegation comprised the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Mr. Edetaen Ojo and Mr. Sadibou Marong of the Africa Office of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), based in Dakar, Senegal.
As part of its advocacy efforts to secure UNESCO’s endorsement of the APAI Declaration, the two-member APAI Working Group had requested an opportunity to address members of the African Group during its quarterly meeting.
Following the request, the Chair of the African Group, Ambassador Solomon Jason Mbuzi, the Ambassador at the Zambian Permanent Delegation to UNESCO, invited the APAI representatives to briefly address the plenary session.
The leader of the APAI delegation, Mr. Ojo, introduced the purpose of the mission as an effort to secure the support of the African Group in the quest by the APAI Working Group to get UNESCO to endorse the APAI Declaration and for the General Conference to designate September 28 of every year as International Access to Information Day, as a date to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information throughout the world.
He explained the critical importance of access to information to all human beings in all aspects of their lives, saying it is an issue which ought to receive the support of everyone, given the centrality of information to human existence.
Mr. Ojo urged the African Group to take ownership of the APAI Declaration and drive it through the UNESCO process, saying although the APAI was seeking global recognition and endorsement for the initiative, it was a uniquely African initiative and by supporting it, the African Group would also be helping to dispel the widely held notion that nothing good comes out of Africa. He also urged the African Delegates to collectively represent the interest of all the people of Africa in this regard.
Mr. Sadibou Marong then followed, addressing the franco-phone African Delegations directly in French and urging them to support the initiative. He also explained the progress so far made and the achievements of the campaign so far.
The presentations were followed by extended discussions about how to take the process forward. While some countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire thought it was already too late for the coming session of the Executive Board, others like Egypt and Uganda argued that it was not impossible to still get the matter discussed by the Executive Board, which was scheduled to meet later in the month.
Some Delegates wanted further information and clarification on the level of support for the APAI Declaration, particularly within the African continent.
Mr. Ojo explained that in addition to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, who moved the motion for the adoption of the Declaration at the Pan African Conference on Access to Information held in Cape Town, South Africa, in September 2011, it had been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Mr. Frank LaRue; the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights by Resolution 222 of May 2012; the Pan African Parliament (PAP) and a host of other institutions and senior government officials across the continent. He also explained that the African Union Commission was a partner in the entire process and supports the Declaration.
Although most speakers expressed support for the Declaration and the need for the African Group to support it, the question was raised on how the initiative should be taken forward. This was again followed by a lot of discussion on the process or procedure to be adopted.
Suggestions ranged from convening an extra-ordinary meeting of the African Group to resolve the matter to the option of assigning a small committee the task of examining the issue and reporting back to the plenary. It was also suggested that members of the African Group that are on UNESCO’s Executive Board could sponsor a motion at the Executive Board level, which could then be co-sponsored by other members of the African Group.
However, the meeting ended with the setting up a Committee to carry out further consultations among members of the African Group, examining the various options available, and recommend a way forward for the larger Group. The Committee is made up of Uganda (as Coordinator), Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya.
The APAI Declaration is an effort to establish clear and comprehensive principles to guide the promotion and protection of the right of access to information in Africa through the adoption and effective implementation of appropriate national laws and regulations.
The preamble to the Declaration notes the 1991 Windhoek Declaration on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press and the progress made in the last 20 years on freedom of expression, access to information and the free flow of information. It also references several previous instruments and documents, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10 December 1948; Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 27 June 1981; as well as Article IV of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 32nd Ordinary Session held in October 2002.
The preamble acknowledges other instruments already adopted at the level of the African Union, including the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption; the African Charter on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration; the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; the African Youth Charter; and the African Statistics Charter, all of which promote transparency in public life.
It also recognizes the efforts of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa in developing a Model Law for AU Member States on Access to Information, aimed at assisting Member States in formulating, adopting or reviewing access to information legislation and its implementation; as well as the efforts of international organisations and others to develop principles and declarations on the right of access to information and freedom of expression.
In the substantive part of the APAI Declaration, there is a set of 14 “Key Principles”, outlining some of the most critical issues and standards relating to access to information laws and their implementation. These are then followed by a section on “Application of Principles” in recognition of the fact that the principles are essential to development, democracy, equality and the provision of public service.
The Declaration provides guidance and sets standards for the application of these principles in 13 substantive sectors or areas.
These sectors or areas are: Elections and Electoral Processes; Disadvantaged Communities; Women; Children; Environmental Information; Education; Health; The Fight Against Corruption; Aid Transparency; Natural Resources Transparency; Media and Information Literacy; Access to Information and Communications Technologies
The final section of the Declaration is a “Call to Action” targeted at a number of institutions and sectors. Each of the institutions or sectors is required to carry out specific actions or play specific roles in promoting access to information and advancing the Declaration.
The targeted institutions and sectors include: UNESCO; the African Union, its organs and institutions; other African regional organizations and institutions; national governments of AU member states; civil society; the Media; business sector companies and corporations; and public and private donors.
APAI seeks, among other things, three concrete outcomes, namely:
- Proclamation by UNESCO and ultimately the UN General Assembly of 28 September as International Access to Information Day, as a date to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information throughout the world.
- The adoption by the AU Summit of 28 September as African “Access to Information Day”
- The development and adoption by the AU of a legally binding instrument on access to information in Africa.
Prior to addressing the plenary session of the African Group on September 13, 3013, the APAI delegation had paid advocacy visits to several national permanent delegations to UNESCO to solicit their support in ensuring that UNESCO endorses the APAI Declaration.
The APAI team met with the Permanent Delegations of Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe, India, Djibouti, Kenya, Congo Brazzaville, Zambia, and Uganda.