The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has adopted by consensus a resolution proclaiming 28 September the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). By the resolution, the General Assembly endorsed a similar resolution which the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) unanimously passed in November 2015 to designate the international Access to Information Day.
The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution without a vote on October 15, 2019, inviting UN Member States, the UN and its agencies, international and regional organizations and civil society to celebrate the International Day.
The resolution was presented in plenary by Liberia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., leading 20 other countries that co-sponsored the resolution. Liberia was the main sponsor of the draft resolution, which had 13 other African countries among the 20 co-sponsors.
The co-sponsors of the resolution were Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Canada, Central African Republic, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eswatini, Greece, Grenada, Guinea, Ireland, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, Philippines, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine and Uruguay.
The adoption of the resolution by the General Assembly marks the crowning glory of years of civil society advocacy, led by the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI), for official recognition of September 28 of every year as International Right to Information Day in accordance with the APAI Declaration, a landmark Declaration adopted in Cape Town, South Africa, adopted on September 19, 2011.
The APAI Declaration was adopted at the end of the Pan African Conference on Access to Information (PACAI) held in Cape Town from September 17 to 19, 2011 and organized by the APAI Working Group in partnership with UNESCO; the African Union Commission (AUC) and then Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Advocate Pansy Tlakula.
The Declaration contains a set of 14 “Key Principles”, outlining some of the most critical issues and standards relating to access to information laws and their implementation, 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 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 sectors and institutions 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 as well as public and private donors.
In particular, the Declaration called on UNESCO to endorse, through its General Conference, the “African Platform on Access to Information” and the proclamation of 28 September as International Right to Information Day, also recommending the endorsement of this International Day by the UN General Assembly, as a date to raise awareness about the importance of the right of access to information throughout the world.
Following four years of advocacy efforts by the APAI Working Group, UNESCO’s General Conference adopted a resolution in November 2015, in which it took note of the principles established in the APAI Declaration and said it recognized that “these principles can play a crucial role in development, democracy, equality and the delivery of public services”.
It also proclaimed 28 September of each year as the “International Day for the Universal Access to Information” and requested UNESCO’s Director-General to bring the resolution to the attention of the UN Secretary-General so that International Day for the Universal Access to Information may also be endorsed by the General Assembly.
Following the adoption of the resolution by UNESCO’s General Conference, the APAI Working Group launched a fresh round of advocacy at the UN, during which it partnered with Liberia’s Permanent Mission to the UN, UNESCO and other stakeholders, to secure the endorsement of the Day by the General Assembly, leading to adoption of the resolution by the General Assembly four years later.
Introducing the draft resolution A/74/L.1 on the “Proclamation of September 28 as International Day for Universal Access to Information” to the General Assembly on behalf of the main sponsor and co-sponsors, on October 15, 2019, Ambassador Kemayah noted that “Access to information is very essential for the democratic functioning of a society, shaping our political, social and economic perspectives; and vital for the sustainable development of countries.”
He recalled that access to information was recognized by the new UN development framework – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – under Goal 16.10.2, adding that “access to information serves as an enabler of all other Sustainable Development Goals.”
He identified other SDGs that could benefit from access to information, including ending poverty in all of its forms, everywhere; ensuring healthy lives and well-being; ensuring equitable education, gender equality and women empowerment; youth empowerment; promoting peaceful and inclusive societies; and reducing inequalities within and among countries.
According to him, “None of these Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved without access to information. The progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals cannot be measured without access to information.”
Ambassador Kemayah said “Liberia, as a country that has experienced conflict and major public health crisis such as the Ebola pandemic, appreciates the value of access to information in combating problems of this scale, and knows firsthand what the lack of information can mean for a society – the difference between life and death.
He remarked that the proposed resolution draws on Resolution 38 C/70, which was adopted unanimously by the Member States of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its General Conference in Paris, France, in 2015, in which it proclaimed September 28 as International Day for Universal Access to Information.
Ambassador Kemayah stressed that since the adoption of the UNESCO Resolution, several countries and civil society organizations were already celebrating the day annually, thereby raising awareness on the importance of access to information.
He said the adoption of the resolution by the UN General Assembly will create the biggest global platform for Governments, civil society organizations, citizens and development partners to reflect on the importance of access to information, identify challenges and design new and innovative ways to promote the advancement of access to information as a tangible tool for development and the realization of the SDGs.
He explained that the resolution was the result of the dedicated work of many Member States, small and large, from different regions of the world, adding that such broad and diverse ownership demonstrates the truly global nature of the resolution on access to information.
Ambassador Kemayah stressed that the adoption by consensus of the resolution by the General Assembly would “send a clear and important message globally that we are committed to enhancing access to information and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
He reaffirmed the commitment of Liberian President George Weah and his Government to promoting access to information, advancing press freedom, freedom of expression and the achievement of the SDGs.
Ambassador Kemayah commended the delegations of Sierra Leone and Costa Rica, and the many other co-sponsors for their unwavering support to the Liberian leadership “on this note worthy endeavor” and joining the initiative.
He also thanked “the many countries from different regions, and international partners and civil society organizations, including UNESCO, the African Platform for Access to Information (APAI), the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and all other media institutions around the world that have championed initiatives promoting access to information over the years.”
Ambassador Kemayah said: “The action we take today will reaffirm our collective resolve as the World Body, the United Nations, to work together to enhance access to information and promote democracy and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Together, we must prioritize enhancing access to information as a pivotal and tangible tool to ensuring the achievement and assessing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.”
The Assembly then adopted the resolution without a vote.