APAI Initiates Campaign for UN Endorsement of Right to Information Day

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download (3)The African Platform on Access to Information has launched a campaign at the United Nations in New York to secure a General Assembly endorsement for the resolution by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaiming September 28 of every year the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).

A two-person APAI Working Group team, made up of Mr. Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director of Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Lagos and Mr. Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), based in Kampala, Uganda, undertook a mission to New York between September 10 and 20, 2017, during the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, to lobby UN member states from Africa, Europe and the Americas to support the initiative.

The campaign follows a resolution adopted on November 17, 2015 by the 38th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, France, declaring September 28 International Day for Universal Access to Information.

The resolution, sponsored by Angola, Nigeria and Morocco, invited all UNESCO Member States, UN system organizations, and other international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non -governmental organizations and individuals, to celebrate the Day in a manner which each considers most appropriate and without financial implications for the regular budget of UNESCO.

It also requested the Director-General of UNESCO to bring the resolution to the attention of the UN Secretary-General so that the “International Day for the Universal Access to Information” may also be endorsed by the UN General Assembly.

Explaining the objectives of the APAI delegation’s mission to New York in September, Mr. Ojo said it was to identify and secure the consent of some countries’ permanent representatives to the United Nations to serve as sponsors of the resolution to be tabled before the UN General Assembly and to solicit and secure the support of other permanent representatives and generally mobilize as much support as possible for the proposed resolution.

Besides, he explained, the APAI Working Group wanted to gain a better understanding of policy processes at the UN General Assembly, including the process for the adoption of resolutions, and based on this, develop a roadmap for its campaign for the adoption of the resolution, including being able to estimate timelines for the progression of the proposed resolution through the system.

In addition, Mr. Ojo said, the team was also to initiate discussions with supportive country representatives at the UN and based on their strategic positions, contacts, influence and other attributes, agree on different roles that various country missions can play and what the role of the APAI Working Group would be.

The APAI Working Group is now seeking a proclamation by the UN General Assembly of September 28 of every year as the International Right to Information Day, a day to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information throughout the world.

The call is contained in the APAI Declaration, which was adopted at the end of the Pan African Conference on Access to Information, held in Cape Town, South Africa, from September 17 to 19, 2011, with about 1,000 participants from across the continent and beyond in attendance.

The APAI Declaration has subsequently been endorsed by over 260 organisations, institutions and individuals, as well as representatives of regional and international organisations, national governments, civil society organizations, trade unions and professional bodies, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights by its Resolution 222, adopted in May 2012.

The APAI Working Group’s motivations include the fact that besides the absence of access to information laws in most African countries, there are no transparent information disclosure practices as a result of which there is an urgent need to support and undertake urgent actions that will redress the situation.

This fact was directly acknowledged by the international community when, also in September 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was formed under the Open Government Declaration, which acknowledged that: “…people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective”.

It is in this context, the APAI Working Group says, that a targeted International Right to Information Day is required as a day for the promotion of the right of access to information.

According to the Group, not only does this allow for a specific date that provides consistent messaging internationally, it allows for easier coordination on joint public awareness and enlightenment initiatives among organisations as the Day is universally recognised.

The Group insists that while the promotion of information and transparency is obviously an activity that occurs throughout the year, a marked Day for collaboration is important for advocacy, allowing a consolidated message on the necessity for greater access to information to create public awareness in audiences that may not be engaged on the issue at other times.

The APAI campaign has received support from a number of APAI partners and collaborators, including the Fesmedia Africa programme of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), based in Windhoek, Namibia, which sponsored the advocacy trip to New York, and the International Press Institute (IPI), based in Vienna, Austria.

On September 14, 2017, the IPI wrote to Ambassador Jan Kickert, the Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN, one of the countries being engaged by the APAI team, requesting Austria to support the campaign of the APAI Working Group.

In the letter signed by Mr. Steven M. Ellis, IPI’s Director of Advocacy and Communications, the Institute said: “Recognising Austria as part of the Group of Friends on Safety of Journalists, and that the rights to freedom of information and free expression are both incorporated within Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we humbly request your sponsorship of the Resolution and vote in favour of the proposal that the UN General Assembly declare 28 September of each year as the ‘International Day for the Universal Access to Information’”.

The IPI argued that “While the promotion of information and transparency is an activity that occurs throughout the year, a marked day for collaboration is important for advocacy, allowing a consolidated message on the necessity for greater access to information to create public awareness in audiences that may not be engaged on the issue at other times.”