African Platform Continues Campaign for UN General Assembly Resolution on ‘International Right to Information Day’

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Zoe Titus, Chair,  APAI Working Group
Zoe Titus, Chair, APAI Working Group

The Working Group of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) continued its campaign at the United Nations headquarters in New York last month for a UN General Assembly resolution endorsing a 2015 resolution adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaiming September 28 of every year the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

The APAI Working Group held its annual planning meeting for 2018 in Windhoek, Namibia, from March 19 to 23, at the end of which it dispatched a two-person delegation to New York to continue its six-month old advocacy to win support for a proposed UN General Assembly resolution among representatives of UN member states and other stakeholders.

The advocacy team was made up of the leaders of two of APAI member organizations, Mr. Edetaen Ojo, the Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and Mr. Gilbert Sendugwa, Executive Director of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), based in Kampala, Uganda, which also hosts the Secretariat of the APAI Working Group.

The team arrived New York on March 25 and during its weeklong advocacy engagements, met with the permanent missions of several countries to the UN from different regions of the world, including Africa, Latin America, and Europe as well as representatives of other stakeholders such as UNESCO, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) to solicit their support for the APAI initiative.

The APAI team met with the permanent missions of countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, France, the United Kingdom, and Greece.

In the months leading up to its latest mission, the APAI Working Group has solicited and received support for its campaign from various groups from around the world, including global networks like the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) and the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet) as well regional groups such as the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEXAfrica) and the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), among others.

The APAI Declaration, which includes recommendations for the official recognition of September 28 as the International Rights to Information Day by regional and international multilateral bodies, has already been endorsed by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights by its Resolution 222 of May 2012 and the Pan African Parliament in its Midrand Declaration of 2013.

The naming of the Day by UNESCO’s General Conference as “International Day for Universal Access to Information” in its 2015 resolution has generated some controversy with many stakeholders describing it as cumbersome and not reflecting access to information as a right.

Ahead of last month’s APAI Working Group’s advocacy mission to New York, FOIAnet members around the world voted online for a change in the name, with 70 per cent of the participants voting in favour of requesting the UN General Assembly to change the name of the Day to “International Right to Information Day”.

The March advocacy mission to New York followed an earlier one undertaken by the APAI Working Group delegation from September 10 to 20, 2017, during the 72ndSession of the UN General Assembly, similarly to lobby UN member states from Africa, Europe and the Americas to support their initiative

The campaign for a UN General Assembly resolution follows the successful lobby by the APAI Working Group in UNESCO, resulting in the adoption of the resolution of November 17, 2015 by the 38th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, proclaiming September 28 International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).

Speaking on the outcome of their mission, Mr. Ojo said: “I believe our mission was hugely successful. While seeking general support of the proposed resolution, our primary objective at this stage is to put together a strong team of sponsors to lead the process by co-sponsoring the draft resolution. Virtually all the permanent missions we have met with are broadly supportive of the initiative. Those we have asked to co-sponsor are interested but need to get clearance from their capitals. We expect that by the time we return to New York again by the middle of this year, we should have our team of co-sponsors in place and can outline a clear road map for the rest of the campaign.”