Sunday, April 21, 2013

Human rights defenders welcome African Commission launch of model law on access to information

Map of African, with African Union member stat...
Map of African, with African Union member states in dark green and states with suspended membership in light green (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The South African Human Rights Commission and the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions in Africa have welcomed the launch of the African Commission Model Law on Freedom and Access to Information.

The model law was officially launch by Commissioner Catherine Dupe Akoki, Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on April 12, 2013 at the ongoing 53rd Ordinary Session of the ACHPR in Banjul, The Gambia.

The law was adopted by the African Commission last month. 

Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission Mabedle Mushwana welcome the launch, saying: “Information and knowledge is power, while lack of which is a deprivation that might result in grave and adverse consequences that might even result in an impingement on a person’s freedom, peace and justice”.

He said a person cannot exercise right to access information unless he or she has knowledge and information of the existence of such rights and where to access such information.

The lunching of this law signifies a bold step taken by the Commission to ensure that pieces of access to information legislation that would henceforth be passed by the African States contain principles and clauses that are progressive and democratic, he said.

This, he said, is aimed at promoting, protecting and developing a culture of human rights on the African Continent.

The launching may also necessitate the amendments of existing pieces of legislation that would be found to be incompatible with this model law.

He encourages wide distribution of copies of the model law in an attempt to inform the wider public about it and to enable legislators to include its salient provisions to improve their existing national legislations on access to information.

Only 10 African countries have so-called laws, regulations and policies dealing with access to information: Angola, Ethiopia, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

However, Mushwana urges these to amend their access to information laws if found to be incompatible with the model law.

Hon. Mathas Chikawe, Minister of Constitutional and Legal Affairs of Tanzania, said: “The model law comes at an opportune moment when most of the African states are contemplating enacting this law in their own countries”.

“It is opportune because transparency and citizen participation has now an important part of good governance,” he said. “In most of our states, democracy has come of age and our citizens need to participate fully in managing the affairs of their own countries.”

Thus, freedom and access to information is fundamental in our democracies, he said.

Hon. Chikawe said the law conforms to international standards and it covers all the basic tenets of the right to access, disclosure, exemptions, and classified information.

“It is in the simple common language that can be easily understood by most users and that make it ideal,” he said of the model law on access to information.

He explained that at the international level this model law is been eagerly awaited by many, at the open government partnership forum where Tanzania and the Republic of South Africa are members of the executive committee, this model law will be happily received.

He said, having a freedom of and access to information law is one of the four criteria for a country to join the open government partnership.

He urged member’s states to use this model law and enact their own legislation to comply with the OGP criteria requirement.

“My country does not have the freedom of information law in place”, he noted while adding that Tanzania have a constitutional provision, which guarantees freedom of information to its citizens in general terms.

However, he said Tanzania is committed to having a freedom of information law this year (2013).  “The model law comes at a right time for the government, as we have already started the process of enacting it”.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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