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CLD Calls for Bold Improvements to Newfoundland Access Law

Photo by Aconcagua

Photo by Aconcagua

Yesterday, Michael Karanicolas testified on behalf of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) before an independent panel reviewing Newfoundland and Labrador’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA), presenting CLD’s formal Submission to the review. Premier Marshall has stated that he wants an access law which would “rank among the best” internationally. CLD noted that this would require root and branch reform of the law, outlining the changes to ATIPPA that would be required if Newfoundland wishes to be a global leader in transparency.

Click here to read CLD’s full Submission
Click here to read ATIPPA

“We appreciate having had the opportunity to provide inputs to the review panel,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “However, the real question is whether the panel and then government are prepared to move forward with the major reforms that would be required to implement Marshall’s promises.”

CLD’s main recommendations are regarding needed reforms of the regime of exceptions, which is currently very overbroad, including by unnecessarily classifying enormous amounts of deliberative information. This problem is compounded by the fact that the Information and Privacy Commissioner lacks the power to review some of these exceptions. Other problems include the following:
• The Commissioner does not have binding order power and can only make recommendations.
• The absence of clear maximum timelines for responding to requests.
• Charging a fee simply for filing an access to information request, as well as for employee time spent responding to a request.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @Law_Democracy

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Myanmar: Media Lawyers Agree to Form Network

Flag_of_Myanmar.svgEarlier this week a group of lawyers in Myanmar with an interest in media law came to an important decision: to form the Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network. The decision was made at a workshop for media lawyers, the third such meeting facilitated by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and International Media Support (IMS), as part of their capacity building work in Myanmar. The 30 lawyers who attended the meeting were unanimous in their interest in and enthusiasm for the idea.

“We are extremely pleased that lawyers in Myanmar will have a dedicated network focusing on media law issues,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “We hope the network will serve as a focal point for building the capacity of its members and creating a core of media law experts.”

“In our experience from other parts of the world, networks such as this ensure that the lawyers can benefit from one another’s skills and experience and use this knowledge to provide the best possible support to media practitioners in need of legal advice,” said Esben Harboe, Programme Manager for IMS’ work in Myanmar.

CLD prepared a background paper for the workshop that reviewed how different lawyers’ associations around the world approached questions such as their mandates, governing structures, membership and funding. These were discussed during the workshop, including in small group sessions, and consensus was reached on many issues. The participants decided that the Network will carry out a range of activities with a view to building the knowledge and expertise of its members, providing policy insight on key freedom of expression issues and intervening in important freedom of expression debates in the country. Lawyers’ associations in many countries have been a force for the promotion and protection of human rights and democratic values.

Click here to read the background paper

To take this work forward, participants chose a six-member steering committee and gave them a mandate to prepare draft constitutional documents for the Network and to plan activities. The participants also made a joint commitment to expand membership to include other lawyers with an interest in these issues.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org

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Draft Bangladesh Law Allows Government Control Over NGO Funds

Image by Souvik.arko

Image by Souvik.arko


The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) have sent a letter to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Sheikh Hasina, urging her government to reconsider passage of the proposed Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, 2014 (the Bill). The Bill would grant the NGO Affairs Bureau, a department under the Prime Minister’s Office, extensive powers over NGOs, including a veto over their ability to receive foreign contributions of any kind. The law would also put in place an onerous registration system and given the NGO Affairs Bureau the power to forcibly dissolve non-compliant NGOs.

Click here to read the Letter
Click here to read the translation of the Draft Act

“The Bill signally fails to respect international standards on freedom of association,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Its substantive provisions cannot be justified and it fails to respect the need to provide for independent oversight. We urge the government of Bangladesh to fundamentally reconsider its approach to this issue.”

International human rights norms relating to freedom of association include the right to seek and secure funding internationally. Moreover, where there is a need for regulatory functions to be done, they should be carried out by an independent body rather than one which operates under the Prime Minister’s Office. The proposed law was approved by Cabinet on 2 June 2014 and is currently before Parliament.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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UNEP: Practice What You Preach

Picture by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Picture by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

On 6 June 2014, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) adopted its first ever Access-to-Information Policy, giving individuals a right to access the information it holds. The event was unimpressive not only for its tardiness – the World Bank adopted its first access to information policy in 1994 – but also for the surprisingly weak guarantees in the Policy. The latter not only fail to live up to international standards and better practice by other inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), but also the very standards which UNEP has recommended to States in this area in its Guidelines for Development of National Legislation on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Bali Guidelines). CLD has written to Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, calling on UNEP to do better when the current Policy, which has a one-year shelf life, is replaced.

Click here to read the Letter

“To say we were disappointed with the Policy, especially coming from an environmental agency which should understand the value of transparency, is putting it mildly,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “Frankly, the hypocrisy of UNEP recommending strong standards for States, which we support, and then adopting such a poor policy itself is hard to understand.”

A serious problem with the Policy is its vastly overbroad regime of exceptions. The exceptions are almost schizophrenic in nature, with model statements of exceptions being undermined by vastly overbroad statements. The Policy grants third parties a veto over the disclosure not only of information provided by them but also provided to them with an expectation of confidentiality, so that any document UNEP shares which is marked confidential could be covered by the exceptions. Other unfortunate wording in the exceptions would render secret any communication which contained a “report” or which related “to the exchange of ideas”.

The Policy also fails to establish an independent appeals mechanism, in contrast to the approach taken in better practice policies adopted recently by other IGOs, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Bank.

CLD urges UNEP to take advantage of the year before this Policy expires to conduct widespread consultations with a view to developing a much stronger right to information policy.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +977 984 1714936
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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East Timor: Media Law Raises Serious Concerns

900px-Flag_of_East_Timor.svg-2In East Timor, as in many States emerging from long periods of undemocratic rule, unprofessional reporting by journalists is a widespread problem. A Media Law adopted in May of this year by the National Assembly, which is currently awaiting Presidential signature, was justified in part as being necessary to address this problem. Comments on the Law published today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) reveal serious problems in terms both of human rights and of the stated goals of the law.

Click here to read the Comments
Click here to read a translation of the Media Law

“The Media Law has some positive features, such as explicit protection for freedom of speech and prohibitions on censorship,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “However, the main regulatory systems it establishes not only represent serious breaches of the right to freedom of expression but, as experience in other countries has amply demonstrated, will do little to improve professionalism.”

The most serious problem with the law is the licensing regime it imposes on individual journalists, which includes setting conditions on who may be a journalist, requiring aspirant journalists to undergo onerous internships, giving the Press Council the power to license journalists and forbidding newspapers from hiring anyone who has not been approved by the Council. This is a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, pursuant to which everyone has the right to practise journalism, which is a human right.

The Comments also note that there have been moves in recent years to establish a self-regulatory system for the media in East Timor and that such systems, where they are effective, are preferable to statutory systems.

Some of the other key problems noted in the Comments are:
• The Law defines media broadly to cover bloggers and even advertisers.
• The Law imposes vague and illegitimate obligations on journalists, such as to contribute to a democratic society and to exercise their profession independently.
• The rules relating to the Code of Conduct are very general, and fail to specify what sorts of provisions should go in the Code or what the penalty for breach will be.
• More could be done to promote the independence of the Press Council.

CLD urges East Timor’s President to consider these problems before signing the Media Law.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +977 984 1714936
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Hungary: Stop Harassing Civil Society

Image by tisza_

Image by tisza_

The Centre for Law and Democracy notes with concern continuing moves by the Hungarian government to restrict the ability of NGOs to operate and to receive funding, including from foreign sources. The actions of the government, which include apparently politically motivated audits of organisations which disburse Norwegian funding, are a clear breach of the right to freedom of association as guaranteed under international law.

“A vibrant civil society sector is vital to the maintenance of a healthy democratic system,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “This is the latest in a long series of human rights abusive measures by the Hungarian government, which collectively have had a serious impact on democracy there.”

The Hungarian government recently launched a full-scale investigation into Norwegian funding of NGOs, including audits against three of the four Hungarian organisations which disperse Norway’s grants. One of the organisations was given a week’s notice of the audit, while the other two were given no notice at all. For those NGOs, government officials appeared unannounced, demanding access to a range of documents related to the grantmaking process, including internal emails and lists of recipients and applicants. If they refuse to cooperate, the NGOs face fines and the potential suspension of their tax registration number, effectively paralysing them. Under an agreement between Norway and the European Union, which is legally binding on Hungary, the Norwegian government maintains responsibility for auditing these funds. A public audit by the Norwegian government had been scheduled for the fall of 2014.

Earlier, in May, the state secretary at Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office published a list of thirteen NGOs which it claimed were problematic for having “leftist political ties”. The list includes some of the country’s most respected human rights organisations, including the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, Transparency International and NANE, a leading women’s rights group.

Hungary’s actions are a breach of the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to seek and obtain funding, including from foreign sources.[1] The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association noted in a 2012 report:

Any associations, both registered or unregistered, should have the right to seek and secure funding and resources from domestic, foreign, and international entities, including individuals, businesses, civil society organizations, Governments and international organizations.[2]

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders has supported that position, stating: “[G]overnments must allow access by NGOs to foreign funding as a part of international cooperation, to which civil society is entitled to the same extent as Governments”.[3]

The fact that the Prime Minister’s office is making allegations of political bias against respected Hungarian human rights organisations is also a matter of concern. This is a tactic that is often used by governments who wish to deflect legitimate criticism of their actions, which appears to be the case here. In Hungary, NGOs with Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) status are tax exempt and are also barred from engaging in “direct political activity”. Any genuine concerns about political engagement on the part of PBO status NGOs should be addressed through an investigation by an independent body on the basis of objective and fair criteria, rather than allegations by senior political figures. The Special Rapporteur has noted that any oversight of NGOs should be carried out by an independent body and that “such a procedure should not be arbitrary and must respect the principle of non-discrimination.”[4] The Special Rapporteur has further noted that oversight bodies should not be entitled to demand access to NGO premises without advance notice.

The Hungarian government’s moves to disrupt the funding of organisations which it alleges to be “leftist” seem to be aimed at exerting a chilling effect on the willingness of NGOs to speak out to defend democracy, which is a core function of NGOs. The Centre for Law and Democracy calls on the Hungarian Government to stop its harassment of civil society and to respect the right to freedom of association. Specifically, Hungarian NGOs and civil society at large should be free to receive funding from foreign donors and any public auditing measures should respect the principles of independence, non-discrimination and non-arbitrariness.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

——————————————-
1. This right is guaranteed in Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, both of which Hungary has ratified.
2. A/HRC/20/27, 21 May 2012. Available at: www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A-HRC-20-27_en.pdf.
3. A/59/401, 1 October 2004. Available at: www.refworld.org/pdfid/4267bfd84.pdf.
4. Note 2.

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Letter Calling for the Release of Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa

Pierre-Claver MbonimpaCentre for Law and Democracy notes with concern that Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, a prominent human rights defender, has been detained by the Burundian government. Mr. Mbonimpa has been charged with spreading false rumours to incite the population to rise up against the authorities, threatening external security and forgery. The charges stem from a radio broadcast in which Mr. Mbonimpa participated on 6 May, and in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), are receiving arms and military training in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is worth noting that Mr. Mbonimpa has offered photographic evidence in support of these allegations, and that Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office in Burundi, warned the UN Security Council on 14 May that there was a risk of violence between politically-affiliated youth groups in the upcoming elections in Burundi.

According to Principle 46 of the Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information (Tshwane Principles), the leading international statement on freedom of expression and national security, speech deemed harmful to national security should only be penalised if: a) the person’s intent was to harm national security; and b) the disclosure poses a real and identifiable risk of causing significant harm. Mr. Mbonimpa’s detention clearly fails this test. He did not act with intent and, far from being harmful to national security, his statements seek to protect Burundi’s security by avoiding bloodshed in the upcoming elections.

In the opinion of CLD, Mr. Mbonimpa’s arrest, prosecution and continued detention violate international human rights law and in particular Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Burundi ratified on 9 May 1990. CLD has now authored a letter calling on the government of Burundi to release Mr. Mbonimpa and to drop all charges against him. CLD further calls on the Burundian government to fulfil its obligations under international human rights law, as well as Burundi’s own constitution, and guarantee that Mr. Mbonimpa, along with all human rights defenders, are allowed to operate freely in Burundi.

Click here to read the Letter in English
Click here to read the Letter in French

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: michael@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Short Notes Outline International Standards on Criminal Content Restrictions

Ali-AnouzlaIn many countries, criminal restrictions on the content of what may be published or broadcast seriously undermine respect for the right to freedom of expression. Often they ban far too much speech in the first place while in other cases they are drafted in vague terms which render them susceptible of overbroad application. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing a set of short Notes on international standards for criminal restrictions in five key areas, with the aim of helping interested stakeholders better understand the issues involved.

Click here for the Note on Alternatives to Criminal Rules (in English) (in Arabic)
Click here for the Note on Defamation (in English) (in Arabic)
Click here for the Note on Hate Speech (in English) (in Arabic)
Click here for the Note on National Security and Terrorism in (English) (in Arabic)
Click here for the Note on Privacy in (English) (in Arabic)
Click here for the Note on Protection of the Sacred and Blasphemy (in English) (in Arabic)

The Notes were prepared for the workshop: Toward Media Regulatory Reform in the Middle East and North Africa: Workshop on Criminal Restrictions on Media Content. The event – which brought together experts from across the region in Beirut, Lebanon, from 24-25 April 2014 – was hosted jointly by CLD, International Media Support and Maharat Foundation. The Notes discuss major issues and international standards in five key thematic areas, namely defamation, hate speech, national security, blasphemy and privacy.

“The Middle East and North Africa is going through a tremendous transition, as a range of local actors, including media outlets, civil society and increasingly political players are demanding legal frameworks which conform to international human rights standards,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “The purpose of these Notes is to provide these actors with a clear, concise statement of relevant international standards in the area of criminal content restrictions.”

Despite recent improvements, the Middle East is among the world’s worst regions in terms of respect for freedom of expression. Although the Notes focus on issues which are of particular relevance in that region, the standards they outline are derived from international law and are, as a result, applicable everywhere in the world.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: michael@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Newfoundland Needs Strong Whistleblower Protection

Kings_Cove_Head_Lighthouse1Newfoundland and Labrador’s government has introduced a bill to protect those who expose serious wrongdoing and threats, i.e. whistleblowers, but is seeking to maintain a veil of secrecy around the Cabinet, even in the context of potentially criminal behaviour. The exception for cabinet documents was one of the key problems identified in an analysis released today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

Click here to read the Analysis
Click here to read Bill 1

Newfoundland and Labrador is one of only two provinces in Canada which has still not adopted legislation to protect whistleblowers. Bill 1 aims to rectify that problem, but it has important shortcomings.

“Blowing the whistle on acts of corruption or mismanagement is an incredibly brave act, which can expose employees to serious personal and professional risks,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Governments need to put in place robust legal regimes to protect people who disclose information for the public good.”

Other major problems identified in the analysis include:
➢ It is limited to employees in the public sector, whereas better practice, for example as reflected in the UK’s Public Interest Disclosure Act, covers the private and voluntary sectors as well.
➢ It only protects disclosures to the Citizens’ Representative, an ombudsman, instead of recognising that in some cases public disclosures are needed.
➢ It is limited to wrongdoing committed after the law comes into force.
➢ It provides insufficient protection to whistleblowers.

CLD calls on Newfoundland and Labrador’s House of Assembly to review the Bill in light of our analysis and to amend it to bring it into line with better practice both across Canada and internationally.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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EU Expression Guidelines Fail to Recognise the Right to Information

Flag_of_Europe.svgOn 12 May 2014, the Council of the European Union adopted the EU Human Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Expression: Online and Offline (Guidelines). The initiative to adopt the Guidelines, which provide “political and operational guidance” to EU staff regarding this important area of EU foreign policy and assistance, is welcome.

At the same time, there are certain problems from the perspective of freedom of expression in the Guidelines. It is, in particular, very problematical that the Guidelines fail to recognise the right of the public to access information held by public authorities as an element of the right to freedom expression and as an operational priority for the EU.

This omission seriously undermines the effectiveness of the Guidelines. The right to access information held by public bodies, or the right to information, has been recognised unequivocally at the international and European level, including by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights, as well as by regional human rights bodies including the African Union and the Organisation of American States. It is not clear why such an important aspect of the right to freedom of expression – an area in which the EU has been active – should have been entirely left out of the Guidelines.

Paragraph 14 of the Guidelines recognise that, in certain circumstances, human rights outcomes may “be assisted” by the disclosure of information held by the State and that this “can serve to promote justice and reparation”, but they fall short of recognising a right to information. The Guidelines also largely fail to recognise promotion of the right to information as a priority area for action, although paragraph 32 does call for support for the adoption of freedom of information laws.

A further concern is that a document of this importance should have been the subject of an open and meaningful process of consultation before it was finalised. Instead, only limited and essentially internal consultations took place. While internal consultations are an appropriate part of the process, the Guidelines should have been the subject of an open public consultation before being adopted in a final version. At a minimum, this would require a formal draft version of the Guidelines to be posted online, with an opportunity for stakeholders to provide comments.

We do not believe the Guidelines are complete without a clear reference to the right to information and a strong commitment to priority action in this area. We therefore call on the relevant EU actors to reconsider the Guidelines with a view to addressing these concerns. Alternatively, we call on the EU to adopt a dedicated set of guidelines on the promotion of the right to information as an element of freedom of expression.

Signatories:

ARTICLE 19
Centre for Law and Democracy
European Federation of Journalists
Free Press Unlimited
Global Forum for Media Development
Index on Censorship
International Media Support
Internews – Europe
Vivarta

For further information please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Mob: +1 902 997-1296
Office: +1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy
Skype ID: toby-mendel

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BLOG: Think Tanks and the Right to Information

Originally posted on the Transparify blog by Michael Karanicolas, Legal Officer, Centre for Law and Democracy. Views expressed here represent those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of the organisation.

The right to information is internationally recognised as a human right which lies at the core of democratic accountability. Since State institutions are funded by public money, it is only natural to expect that the people have a right to know how their resources are being spent. In a democratic society, access to information held by the government is vital to ensuring that the electorate is fully and accurately informed, and can properly engage in the decision-making process. The right to information also fosters trust in government, and promotes efficiency through robust public oversight.

The right to information is not limited to State institutions. International standards hold that the right to information should apply to any private organisations that receive State funding or perform a public function to the extent of that funding or function. It is clear that, where an NGO – a category that includes most think tanks – is substantially funded from a State budget, a duty of transparency should apply.

However, many think tanks and other NGOs are not supported by State funds, and here the question becomes more difficult. Most right to information laws do not apply to NGOs, but there are exceptions. Indonesia’s Public Information Disclosure Act applies to NGOs which receive funding from public donations or from foreign sources, as well as any that receive money from the State budget. South Africa’s Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 allows for requests to any private organisation, including NGOs, if the information is required for the exercise or protection of any right. Sierra Leone’s Right to Access Information Act, which was passed in late 2013, includes a similar provision.

Several countries also impose additional transparency requirements on organisations which claim charitable status. This makes sense as charitable status is, in essence, a tax subsidy provided by the State.

Transparency is generally a good thing. However, there are legitimate reasons why NGOs may be wary of these requirements. For one thing, many smaller or developing world organisations lack the resources to respond efficiently to access to information requests, particularly if their records are not digitised. Another issue is that NGOs will sometimes require a certain amount of space to operate. Advocacy strategies, for example, will often need to be kept under wraps in order to ensure their efficacy. Although it is conceptually dangerous to start expanding the legitimate limits of exceptions to the right to information, these ideas require development to be properly applied to the NGO sector.

But beyond the legal requirements of what NGOs must publish, there are legitimate operational reasons to want to push more information into the public domain. If an NGO seeks to pressure governments or corporations into being more transparent, while simultaneously guarding the secrecy of its own documentation, it runs the risk of being labelled a hypocrite.

Good advocacy means practicing what you preach, even if this may lead to some operational difficulties. Strictly speaking, the right to know does not generally extend to information that is held by NGOs. But if an NGO seeks to be an effective voice for transparency, it may need to lead by example.

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International Mandates: Universality and Freedom of Expression

joint-statement1-300x117Today, the 17th annual Joint Declaration by the four specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission was launched in Paris, France. This latest Declaration, prepared with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy and ARTICLE 19, highlights issues relating to the universality of the right to freedom of expression.

Click here to read the Joint Declaration in English
Click here to read the Joint Declaration in Arabic
Click here to read the Joint Declaration in French
Click here to read the Joint Declaration in Russian
Click here to read the Joint Declaration in Spanish

“The universality and inter-dependence of all human rights has long been recognised by international bodies, including the United Nations,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD, who participated in the launch event. “But this is the first time that a statement has been adopted highlighting the specific attributes of universality in the context of the right to freedom of expression.”

The Joint Declaration focuses on two related aspects of universality in relation to freedom of expression, namely the right of all individuals and groups in society to enjoy this foundational right and the illegitimacy of imposing restrictions on freedom of expression which seek to impose the traditions, culture and value of dominant groups on others. To achieve these ends, the Joint Declaration recognises that certain laws, customs and practices may need to be modified or even eliminated.

Some of the other key points made in the Declaration include the following:
• States should put in place positive measures – including the promotion of public service broadcasting and community media – to ensure that all individuals and groups in society can enjoy the right to freedom of expression.
• States have little or no power to restrict certain types of speech, most importantly political speech.
• Laws which restrict speech to protect religions, which prevent minorities from speaking out about issues of concern to them or which provide special protection to officials and State symbols are illegitimate and should be repealed.
• The international community should do more to promote dialogue and debate about the universality of freedom of expression.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: toby@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 997-1296
www.law-democracy.org

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Statement on Criminal Restrictions on Media Content in the Middle East

Tahrir_Square_on_February11The Middle East and North Africa remains one of the world’s most troubled media environments, despite some gains since 2011. Today the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), International Media Support (IMS) and Maharat Foundation are unveiling a Statement on Media Regulatory Reform in the Middle East and North Africa: Criminal Restrictions on Media Content. The Statement is the product of a workshop in Beirut, Lebanon, from 24-25 April, and was adopted by experts from Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen.

The Statement highlights the major types of problems in the region in terms of criminal law restrictions on what may be published or disseminated through the media, and calls on countries to conduct comprehensive reviews of their criminal law rules affecting freedom of expression. It also provides specific recommendations on a number of thematic areas, including that laws protecting national security should be clearly defined, that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation and that hate speech laws should only prohibit incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence

Click here to read the Statement in English
Click here to read the Statement in Arabic

“This Statement reflects a strong consensus among experts from the region regarding the main criminal law problems,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “It also charts a clear path forward in terms of the basic reform efforts that need to take place.”

The workshop built on an earlier workshop hosted by IMS in Casablanca in November 2013, and is one of a series that will take place across the Middle East this year.

“By facilitating dialogue on the major freedom of expression challenges, we are advancing a common regional advocacy strategy,” said Virginie Jouan, IMS Programme Manager for Tunisia and Morocco.
“The principles espoused in the Statement reflect a shared view of the major problems in our common media landscape,” said Roula Mikhael of Maharat. “We look forward to working with our colleagues from around the region to provide mutual support in solving these pressing challenges.”

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 992-1296
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

Virginie Jouan
Programme Manager, Middle East and North Africa
International Media Support (IMS)
Email: vj@i-m-s.dk
Tel: +45 8832 7000
www.i-m-s.dk
Twitter: @forfreemedia

Roula Mikhael
Executive Director
Maharat Foundation
Email: roula.mikhael@maharatfoundation.org
Tel.: 009613612413 (mobile)
www.maharatfoundation.org

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Briefing Paper on Transparency and Accountability

cldThe Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), working with Democracy Reporting International (DRI), has recently published a Briefing Paper on International Standards on Transparency and Accountability. The Paper is one of a series which focuses on the main foundations of democracy. These, in turn, are drawn from a 2011 DRI report outlining the key components of a strong democracy, International Consensus: Essential Elements of Democracy. This Paper contributes to standard setting, which is vital to the development of human rights. Without an accurate yardstick for good law and policy, it would be difficult to assess where States are succeeding and where they are failing.

Click here to read the Paper

“This Paper provides a succinct but clear explanation of the international law foundations for transparency and accountability, as well as the relationship between them,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “Most observers agree that these notions are closely intertwined, but the precise nature of their relationship is complex and not always well understood.”

The Briefing Paper provides readers with a concise and yet well-documented overview of the topic. It starts by providing definitions of transparency and accountability, two concepts which are mutually supporting but also overlapping. The main part of the Paper outlines the key international law foundations that underlie transparency and accountability, with a particular focus on the more specific rules underpinning the right to information.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 992-1296
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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UNESCO: Community Radio Book Published

imageUNESCO has recently published a book on community radio prepared by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), Tuning into development: International comparative survey of community broadcasting regulation. The book focuses on international standards govenring the regulation of community radio as well as the legal framework for this in some thirty countries from different regions of the world. It also includes a set of recommendations on better practice regarding the regulation of community broadcasting.

Click here to read the Report

“We believe that this book fills an important gap in the literature,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “There has been a lot of discussion about the need for enabling regulations for community broadcasting, and a certain amount of standard-setting, but this is the first really comprehensive analysis of comparative law in this area.”

Part I of the book provides an overview of relevant international standards, both of a general nature and focusing more specifically on community broadcasting. Part II provides an overview of the way the community radio sector has developed in different parts of the world. Part III, the longest, analyses the legal environments for community broadcasting broken down into three categories, namely Recognition, Definition and Form; Access and Licensing; and Funding and Sustainability. Information within each category is organised by region – Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and Other – and then country. Part IV looks at developing regulatory environments, while Part V contains the recommendations.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 412 0872
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Palestine: Draft Right to Information Law Weakened

Barack_Obama_meets_with_Mahmoud_Abbas_in_the_Oval_Office_2009-05-28_1The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has done an analysis of the latest draft of the Access to Information Law being prepared by the Palestinian authorities which indicates that the law has been substantially weakened since our last analysis in December 2013. Using the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org), the December draft obtained a score of 92 points out of a possible 150, which has now declined to just 85 points, well into the bottom half of all countries globally with right to information (RTI) laws.

Click here for the Comments
Click here for an unofficial translation of the draft Law
Click here for a version of this Press Release in Arabic

“We welcome the fact that Palestine is preparing a right to information law,” said CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel. “But it is very unfortunate that the draft has been weakened, rather than strengthened, since our last analysis, especially given the strong trend globally towards adopting stronger RTI laws.”

The draft Law does relatively well in terms of scope of application and is moderately strong in terms of the regime of exceptions and promotional measures. It is, however, weak in terms of the right of access, proactive disclosure, requesting procedures, appeals and sanctions and protections. Some of the key recommendations in the analysis include the following:
➢ The scope of information subject to proactive disclosure should be elaborated in far more detail.
➢ Significantly more detailed and robust rules on how requests are to be processed should be added to the law.
➢ A public interest override should be added to the law to ensure that information of important public interest is disclosed and the overall time limit of 20 years for security and foreign information should be extended to all exceptions.
➢ The independence and powers of the oversight Commission should be substantially enhanced.
➢ Protection should be provided for the good faith disclosure of information pursuant to the law.

The analysis of the draft Palestinian Access to Information Law, along with the unofficial translation upon which the analysis was based, is available at:

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
Tel: +1 902 412 0872
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Pakistan: Draft Cybercrime Law Threatens Digital Development

State_emblem_of_Pakistan.svgThe Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing Comments on a new cybercrime law, the draft Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2014, which is currently being considered by the government of Pakistan. The CLD Comments highlight the fact that the draft Act threatens to undermine the development of the Internet in Pakistan. The draft Act does contain some positive aspects, such as rigorous procedural protections regarding cybercrime investigation and limitations on intermediary liability, but its broadly defined crimes threaten to turn almost every Pakistani Internet user into a criminal.

Click here for the Comments
Click here for the draft Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2014

“Internet usage remains relatively limited in Pakistan today, undermining not only freedom of expression but the very pace of development in the country,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “If the government wishes to encourage greater Internet use, it is critically important that this law adequately respect human rights.”

Among other problematic provisions the draft Act would outlaw any use of an information system in excess of authorisation, effectively making the violation of terms of service on websites and hardware products a criminal offence. It also threatens online privacy by prohibiting the use of tools which hide an Internet user’s identity and by imposing a sweeping data retention scheme. Another problem is that it seeks to extend and reinforce Pakistan’s already problematic criminal defamation rules.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2014 has been approved by the Ministry of Information Technology and will be considered by Cabinet in advance of its presentation to Parliament.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

*Note – in our original Comments, we mistakenly attributed the original draft of the law to Akram Sheikh and Aslam Hayat. In fact, it was prepared by Jamil & Jamil in consultation with P@SHA (Pakistan Software Houses Association) and ISPAK (Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan). The Comments have been amended to correct this.

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CLD and AJI Provide Demand-side Training Programme

image003Strong demand for information is critical to successful implementation of the right to information. It helps both motivate public authorities to undertake necessary supply side measures, and identify and address weaknesses. To promote implementation of Indonesia’s Law 14/2008 on Public Information Disclosure, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) undertook a major training programme to build the capacity of key stakeholders – mainly journalists and civil society groups – to use the law. CLD and AJI are today releasing a report on the over 200 requests that were made as part of this programme.

Click here to read the Report in English
Click here to read the Report in Bahasa

The programme began with a training of trainers in Jakarta and continued when those trained returned to their home provinces of West Java, South Sumatra, West Nusa Tenggara and North Sulawesi to carry out local trainings for journalists and civil society groups. A key element of the programme was to work with participants to make requests for information relating to their work and, where necessary, to lodge internal complaints and then appeals to the provincial information commissions.

“We were delighted with the way participants embraced the programme and actively pursued requests.” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “This is precisely the sort of engagement that will drive success implementation of Indonesia’s RTI framework.”

The exercise demonstrated that Indonesia’s public bodies still have a long way to go in terms of implementation. Only 34% of requests resulted in full disclosure of the information, while the same number resulted in oral or silent refusals. Several appeals in these latter cases are still ongoing.

“Although the exercise revealed significant problems, we are optimistic about the right to information in Indonesia over the longer term”, said Eko Maryadi, President of AJI Indonesia. “Civil society groups are committed to advancing this vital human right.”

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Indonesia: Right to Information Training Manual Unveiled

photo_2As part of an ongoing programme to promote the right to information (RTI) in Indonesia, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and the Indonesian Center for Environmental Law (ICEL) today released a Training Manual for Public Bodies on Implementing Law 14 of 2008 Regarding Openness in Public Bodies. The Manual has already been used to conduct various training sessions for public officials, for example in Jakarta and the Indonesian province of Banten.

Click here for the Training Manual in English
Click here for the Training Manual in Bahasa Indonesian

“The Manual is an invaluable resource both for conducting training courses and as a reference tool for officials tasked with implementing the RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Although it was specifically designed for use in Indonesia, it could easily be adapted for other contexts.”

The Manual offers practical instructions on how to fulfil key RTI responsibilities, including processing requests for information, categorising and managing information, applying exceptions, resolving disputes over information disclosure and developing a longer-term action plan for implementation activities. It also offers background on key conceptual issues such as the importance of transparency to democratic accountability and the benefits that openness brings. In its essence, the Manual provides a useful roadmap for officials tasked with implementing Indonesia’s RTI law.

“This Manual contains a full discussion of the legal obligations that flow from Law 14 of 2008.” said Dessy Eko Prayitno, Researcher with ICEL. “We look forward to using this tool to further promote the right to information in Indonesia.”

More information on CLD’s work in Indonesia is available here.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
michael@law-democracy.org
+1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
@law_democracy

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Sierra Leone’s Right to Information Law is 5th Strongest in the World

450px-Flag_of_Sierra_Leone.svgIn October 2013, Sierra Leone became the 96th country in the world, and the 12th country in Africa, to pass an RTI law. An analysis by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) rates the Right to Access Information Act as tied for the 5th strongest in the world. The law scored 124 out of a possible maximum of 150 points on the RTI Rating, an internationally renowned analytical tool developed by CLD and its partner organisation, Access Info Europe, which has been applied to every national RTI law globally.

Click here for the RTI Rating Scoresheet
Click here for the Law

“We congratulate Sierra Leone on passing such a strong law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The challenge now will be to implement it effectively, something that has been a challenge in many African countries.”

One of the key strengths of the Act is its broad scope, which covers all types of information held by a wide range of public bodies and even some private bodies. The Act also features strong promotional measures, which will be crucial to its successful implementation. It is also positive that many areas where the Act failed to score points on the Rating could be remedied relatively easily through the adoption of strong regulations.

However, there are also some more serious problems with the Act. These include the lack of a rule ensuring that its access provisions will be interpreted broadly and its exceptions interpreted narrowly, several exceptions which are overly broad, and a failure to provide that its rules trump conflicting legislation to the extent of any conflict.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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