Liberia plans to table a resolution before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this year asking it to endorse the November 2015 proclamation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of September 28 as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).
Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), announced this in New York at a Coordinating Meeting for stakeholders and partners convened by the Permanent Mission of Liberia to the UN on the sidelines of the UN High Level Political Forum.
Speaking at the meeting held in Uganda House in New York on July 16, 2019, Ambassador Kemayah explained that the Permanent Mission of Liberia to the UN convened the meetingin collaboration with various partners such as UNESCO, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI)to discuss how they could work together to give effect to a key aspect of the resolution on the Proclamation of September 28 as the International Day for the Universal Access to Information, which was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 38th Session in November 2015.
In the resolution, UNESCO’s General Conference, consisting of representatives of all UNESCO member states, requested the Director-General of UNESCO to bring the resolution to the attention of the United Nations Secretary-General, so that the International Day for the Universal Access to Information may also be adopted by the UNGA.
Ambassador Kemayah said the issue of access to information was very important to Liberia’s President, Dr. George Manneh Weah, the Government, and People of Liberia.
According to him, it is also consistent with the new UN development framework, namely, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which under Goal 16.10.2 recognizes access to information.
He said: “We appreciate the importance of access to information as an enabler of all other sustainable development goals; whether it is ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; ending hunger and achieving food security and food nutrition; ensuring healthy lives and well-being; ensuring equitable education, gender equality and women empowerment; promoting peaceful and inclusive societies; building resilient infrastructure; or reducing inequalities within and among countries. None of these goals can be achieved without access to information.”
Ambassador Kemayah contended that in addition to the fact that access to information is necessary for the realization of the 17SDGs, it is also important to facilitate the measurement of progress being made towards the realization of the goals.
He said: “As a country that has experienced conflict and major public health crisis such as the Ebola pandemic, Liberia appreciates the value of access to information in combating problems of this scale, and knows firsthand what lack of information can mean for a society- the difference between life and death.”
He stressed Liberia’s conviction that “access to information is not only essential for the democratic functioning of a society, but is also pivotal and vital for the sustainable development of countries.”
Observing that Liberia has one of the best Access to Information Laws globally, allowing both the media and individual citizens to demand information from any public authority or private entity that carries out Government related functions, Ambassador Kemayah assured the audience that Liberian President Weah and his Government were fully committed to promoting the advancement of citizens access to information.”
According to him, in February this year, President Weah signed into Law the Kamara Abdullah Kamara (KAK) Act of Press Freedom, which decriminalizes freedom of speech in Liberia through the amendments of Chapter 11 of the Penal Law of 1978, repealing Sections 11.11 on criminal libel against the President; Section 11.12 on Sedition and Section 11.14 on criminal malevolence.
Ambassador Kemayah said the enactment and signing into Law of the Kamara Abdullah Kamara Act of Press Freedom, was a clear evidence and further manifestation of the unflinching practical commitment of President Weahto promoting and advancing press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.
Emphasizing the importance of access to information and its undeniable link as an enabler of all 17SDGs, he invited everyone to support this proposed resolution for the “Proclamation of September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information”, which Liberia has resolved to introduce at the UNas a complement to the UNESCO General Conference Resolution, unanimously adopted by UNESCO Member States nearly four years ago.
According to Ambassador Kemayah, “The setting aside of a Day to celebrate and raise awareness on the importance of the right to information throughout the world, would create a platform for governments, civil society, citizens and development partners to reflect on challenges and ways to promote the advancement of access to information as a tangible tool for development and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.”
He called upon all UNmembers States to join Liberia in co-sponsoring and supporting the adoption of the important proposed resolution and urged all partners of the initiative “to remain steadfast until the ultimate goal is achieved.”
There were also statements presentations by other stakeholders at the meeting, including Professor Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO; Mr. Massimo Tommasoli, who is the Permanent Observer for International IDEA to the UN; Mr. Toby Mendel, Chair of the Steering Committee of the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet); as well as representatives of Ireland, Sierra Leone, Cuba, Costa Rica, Lesotho, among others, all of whom expressed support for the proposed resolution and pledged to contribute to the adoption of the resolution.
Professor Berger presented the background to the adoption of the resolution IDUAI by UNESCO member States in Paris, France, in November 2015 and suggested that other members of the UN family could become involved if the General Assembly decided to recognize the date.
He said UNESCO was prepared to continue increasing the nuber of countries around the world where the Day would be observed annually in order to make greater impact, adding that UNESCO was planning for the commemoration of the occasion of September 28 this year in at least 20 countries.
Professor Berger stressed to the value of the Day in promoting the monitoring of progress on SDG 16.10.2, adding that UNESCO was also convening a side-event to the UN High Level Political Forum where it would release a report on its tracking of guarantees on access to information in 43 countries.
He pledged that the initiative at the UN would be brought to the attention of member State delegations at UNESCO who in turn could liaise with their counterparts in New York on the matter.
Mr. Tommasoli of International IDEA, noted that monitoring of progress on SDGs provides a reality check on policy-making which sometimes done without proper evidence. He added that the monitoring of progress was also a good way to check on performance in relation to the goals.