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2022 Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and Gender Justice

3 May 2022.

Today, the specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their annual Joint Declaration under the title Freedom of Expression and Gender Justice. The Joint Declaration, which was drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), sets out actions and measures which States and a range of non-State actors should take so as to promote greater gender justice in the area of freedom of expression.

The 2022 Joint Declaration is really innovative inasmuch as it is the first to address the importance of gender justice in the area of freedom of expression”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It highlights the fact that barriers to equality are not only a problem in their own right but also for the way they undermine the effective exercise of freedom of expression by women, including in terms of access to information, to the detriment of society as a whole.

Some of the many specific standards in the Joint Declaration include the following:

    • Eliminating discrimination against women and gender non-conforming people requires a “whole of society” approach whereby States, the private sector and civil society work together to remove barriers and to put in place positive measures to promote equality.
    • Special measures are needed to promote equal access to information, including to address the gender digital divide and relative paucity of gender-disaggregated data.
    • Gender-specific restrictions on freedom of expression, including where they are justified by paternalistic or traditional notions of “public morals”, should be removed.
    • States should take specific steps to eliminate gender-based violence, which is increasingly undermining equality in terms of freedom of expression.
    • The responsibility of companies to exercise human rights due diligence includes a responsibility on the part of Internet intermediaries to take effective steps in a number of areas to increase women’s freedom of expression online.

The Joint Declaration is available in:

English
French
Spanish

For further information, please contact:

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

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Myanmar: Note on New Draft Cyber Security Law

2 May 2022.

The military regime running Myanmar first proposed a draft Cyber Security Law in February 2021, but strong criticism from a number of companies and organisations, including the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), led to the temporary withdrawal of those proposals. In January 2022, however, the regime promulgated a new version of the draft Law which retains all of the repressive elements of the original version and adds further restrictions. CLD is today releasing its Note on the New Draft Cyber Security Law, providing a detailed assessment of the impact of the changes to the draft Law and how they breach international human rights guarantees.

“The original version of this draft Law was already very repressive, but these amendments make it much worse,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The changes are carefully tailored to give the military regime power to control those aspects of digital and civil space where it feels threatened, such as the use of VPNs and reliance on cryptocurrencies to get around its increasingly repressive control measures.”

Some of the key points made by CLD in the Note were:

    • The regulatory powers of institutions which are not independent of the military regime and which were already too extensive have been further expanded.
    • The requirement to get permission from the Ministry to use a VPN, not to mention the minimum sanction of one year’s imprisonment for breach, is completely illegitimate.
    • The significant expansion of control over financial services, including the explicit ban on the use of cryptocurrencies, represents, in conjunction with other measures, a clear breach of the right to freedom of association and an attempt to limit further civic space.
    • The power of military-controlled (i.e. non-independent) bodies to impose harsh administrative sanctions on a range of actors is not legitimate, and this is also true of the provision for mandatory minimum imprisonment sentences for numerous offences.

CLD recommends that the military regime stop trying to introduce this illegitimate law, especially given the undemocratic approach it has been taking. At such time as democracy returns to Myanmar, proper consultations could be held regarding what form of cyber security law might be needed.

CLD’s Analysis of the Amendments is available here in English and here in Burmese.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada: Courts Impose Excessive Limits on Power of Information Commissioner to Review Legal Documents

8 April 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) expresses deep disappointment in the recent decision of the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court to deny the province’s information commissioner the authority to review documents which the government claims are protected by solicitor client privilege. This effectively deprives the commissioner of the power to review such claims so that the only real recourse available to requesters where such claims are made is to go to court.

When the provincial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was adopted in 2015, the government made it clear that the intention was to enable the commissioner to review all documents claimed to be exempt, including claims based on solicitor client privilege. Historically, this exception has often been abused, for example when officials rely on it when lawyers are simply present or included on communications.

“It is surprising that the Supreme Court would interpret the Act in this fashion when this was clearly not the legislative intent behind it, which seems to reflect an overly secretive approach within the legal profession” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “Hopefully this decision will get overturned on appeal since, otherwise, the only option will be to amend the Act.”

Newfoundland and Labrador has the strongest right to information law in Canada, as shown by CLD’s RTI Rating. This is the result of a comprehensive reform of the law in 2015. At the time, the government made a clear commitment to craft a strong law that would empower transparency in the province. The Supreme Court’s decision, along with the government’s reliance on solicitor-client privilege to avoid oversight, represents an unfortunate backsliding on government transparency in the province.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Canada: Submission on British Columbia Right to Information Law

31 March 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has made a Submission to the British Columbia (BC) all-party Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), the local right to information law. This follows an appearance before the Committee by CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel, on 16 March 2022. Although relatively strong by Canadian standards, the BC law was weakened by amendments which were rushed through in late 2021 and, internationally, would rank in 50th place from among the 135 national laws assessed on the RTI Rating.

“People across Canada were shocked when the BC government rushed through negative amendments to FIPPA last year, at a time when the all-party Special Committee had already started its review of the Act” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “The Committee now has the opportunity to redress that democratic backsliding by making strong recommendations to improve the Act.”

The CLD Submission makes a number of recommendations of which some of the more important are:

    • The Committee should make clear its rejection of both the process and substance of the 2021 amendments.
    • The scope of FIPPA should be increased substantially to cover all three branches of government and all bodies which are owned, controlled or substantially funded by government or which undertake public functions.
    • There should be overall limits to the extensions to the time for responding to requests and no fees should be payable for making requests or time spent to respond to requests.
    • The exceptions should be comprehensively reviewed and any that do not protect legitimate interests or include a harm test should be repealed or amended.

CLD’s Submission is available here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Myanmar Resource Page

28 March 2022.

In February 2021, Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government in a coup. Since then, they have conducted a highly repressive and frequently violent campaign against democracy advocates and human rights defenders. Independent media now operate largely underground as the regime has legally closed and harassed them and arrested journalists.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has launched a new resource page which contains our key publications related to Myanmar. These documents apply international human rights law standards, with a focus on freedom of expression and of the media, to developments in Myanmar. The page includes resources on legal issues arising since the coup, as well as older resources which are still relevant or useful. Most publications are available in both English and Burmese.

We will regularly update this page as we develop new resources on Myanmar. The most recent addition is a Guide summarising international standards relating to the right to information. Other publications include in-depth analyses of amendments made by the military regime to the Penal Code and the Broadcasting Law, as well as shorter explanatory briefing notes on key international law issues.

CLD has been engaged in law reform and media freedom work in Myanmar for ten years. Accordingly, we have a number of resources analysing older Myanmar laws governing freedom of expression or the media, or which elaborate on international standards on freedom of expression. The page also links to these older publications.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431 3686
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Puerto Rico: Online Webinar on Access to Information and the SDGs

15 March 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is collaborating with the Puerto Rican network Red de Transparencia and its member organisation Espacios Abiertos (EA) to host a series of events as part of Sunshine Week in Puerto Rico. These include meetings with a wide range of different stakeholders – from all three branches of government, civil society, media, academia and the business sector – to stress the importance of access to information and to advocate in favour of reform of the Puerto Rican legislative framework on the right to information.

“CLD prepared a detailed analysis of the legal framework for the right to information in Puerto Rico in 2020, including an assessment based on CLD’s RTI Rating, which showed that the framework was weak, earning only 73 points out of a possible total of 150,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “We are pleased to see that Puerto Rico’s executive and legislative branches are open to review both the Transparency Law and Open Data Law adopted in 2019 and we encourage them to take full advantage of this opportunity to bring the rules into line with international standards.”

As part of these events, Red de Transparencia and United Nations Association-USA-Puerto Rico Chapter is hosting a webinar today at 3pm Puerto Rican time/EST on Transparency and Access to Information for the Development of Solid Institutions: How can They Help us Achieve Sustainable Development Goals? This will look at how to assess progress in Puerto Rico on SDG Indicator 16.10.2, on adoption and implementation of access to information legislation, as well as the importance of progress on this indicator for achieving the other SDGs.

At 6pm Mendel will also deliver a master class at the University of Puerto Rico Graduate School of Public Administration titled An Open Government is Possible: Puerto Rico in the Global Context.

Through their work in the areas of research, strategic litigation and community outreach, power literacy and organising, Espacios Abiertos and the members of the Red de Transparencia pave the way towards a more open, transparent, accountable, democratic society in Puerto Rico, with increased justice and equity for its citizens.  “We are delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Dr. Mendel to Puerto Rico and to host an open conversation with local stakeholders on this very important subject. We firmly believe that transparency in government is of utmost importance for an informed and engaged society and as the antidote to the corruption that has weakened the people’s trust in its public institutions,” said Cecille Blondet-Passalacqua, Esq., EA’s Executive Director.

The flyer for this event is available here and you can register at this hyperlink.

A Spanish version of this press release is available here.

For further information, please contact:

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

Maricelis Rivera
Communications Advisor
Espacios Abiertos
maricelisrivera@accessallservices.com
+17876152876
www.espaciosabiertos.org
twitter: @EApuertoricos

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Colombia: Amicus Brief Challenging Rules Allowing Zero Rating

24 February 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief to the Constitutional Court of Colombia outlining freedom of expression concerns raised by an exception to Colombia’s net neutrality protections. The exception enables “zero-rating” schemes, whereby Internet access providers effectively give free access to certain services, content or applications (i.e. access which is not counted as using up the data on a user’s plan). While zero-rating schemes may seem like a free perk to customers, they channel traffic towards dominant services such as Facebook or Whatsapp and, in most cases, prevent or delay users from transitioning to access to the full Internet.

“Zero-rating schemes are popular in some countries but are rarely subjected to sufficient scrutiny in terms of their compatibility with human rights law, including States’ obligation to promote universal access to the full Internet in a manner that respects net neutrality” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “The Constitutional Court has an important opportunity in this case to recognise this obligation and to strike down a provision which enables zero-rating schemes without subjecting them to proper conditions and oversight.”

Article 56(1) of Colombia’s Law 1450 of 2011 enables zero-rating schemes without setting conditions on their use and regardless of their impact on access to the Internet. CLD’s brief argues that such schemes are legitimate only if they do not undermine the progressive achievement of universal access to the whole Internet. In the case of Colombia, no due diligence has been conducted to assess the impact of these schemes and no conditions are placed on their use, leaving their operation entirely to the discretion of commercial companies. While zero-rating schemes, if subjected to appropriate conditions, may be appropriate in countries with very low Internet access rates, as Internet access increases such schemes often leave users in “walled gardens” instead of increasing access to the full Internet.

CLD’s amicus curiae brief is available here.

El informe de amicus curiae está disponible en español aquí.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Regressive Changes Proposed for El Salvador’s Right to Information Law

14 February 2022.

(A Spanish translation is below)

CLD is concerned that proposed changes to El Salvador’s Law on Access to Public Information will limit transparency and access to information in El Salvador. This is a disappointing development given that the current law is very strong and El Salvador has historically been a regional leader. Thus, on CLD’s RTI Rating, which ranks right to information laws globally (rti-rating.org), El Salvador does very well and is in 11th place globally.

“Reforming a right to information law should be an opportunity to strengthen transparency, in consultation with the public and key stakeholders, based on lessons learned,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Instead, the Government of El Salvador has chosen to do the opposite and undermine the right to information in El Salvador.”

Key concerns around the proposed amendments include:

    • Responses to requests for information would no longer need to be provided as soon as possible and the time limit for responding would increase to 20 days. This would cost El Salvador three points on the RTI Rating.
    • The sanctions in the law would apply to everyone instead of just government officials. This could potentially expose civil society groups or journalists to sanctions for reporting on information that has already been leaked by a third party.
    • The ability of the government and other public entities to reclassify information subject to proactive disclosure obligations would expand, so that it could more easily restrict the automatic disclosure to the public of information.
    • There were already problems with the process for selecting members of the access to information oversight body (the Institute for Access to Public Information), in particular in terms of political interference, for example because the president formally appointed all members. However, the amendments would further limit the role of non-governmental actors, including civil society, in nominating candidates.
    • The amendments would limit the circumstances in which a requester can come in person to consult physical copies of information directly.

Our updated RTI Rating of the legal framework for RTI in El Salvador based on these amendments is available here.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
Senior Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234-4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

**

14 de febrero de 2022

Propuesta de reformas regresivas a la Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública de El Salvador

El Centro para la Democracia y el Derecho (CLD) ve con preocupación las propuestas de reforma a la Ley de Acceso a la Información Pública de El Salvador, ya que, de ser aprobadas, limitarían la transparencia y el derecho de acceso a la información en dicho país. Esta situación es lamentable, dado que la actual ley es robusta e históricamente ha sido un referente regional. En el índice de Derecho de Acceso a la Información del CLD (RTI Rating por sus siglas en inglés), que clasifica las leyes del derecho de acceso a la información a nivel mundial (rti-rating.org), El Salvador tiene una buena ubicación, clasificándose en el puesto 11 a nivel mundial.

“Reformar una ley de derecho a la información pública debería ser una oportunidad para fortalecer la transparencia, en consulta con la ciudadanía y con actores claves, con base en las lecciones aprendidas”, dijo Toby Mendel, Director Ejecutivo del CLD. “En cambio, el Gobierno de El Salvador ha optado por hacer lo contrario y socavar el derecho de acceso a la información en El Salvador”.

Las principales preocupaciones  de las reformas propuestas son:

    • Las respuestas a las solicitudes de información ya no tendrían que entregarse con prontitud, pues  el plazo para responder aumentaría a 20 días. Esto implicaría que El Salvador bajaría tres puntos en el índice RTI.
    • Las sanciones previstas en la ley, se aplicarían a los particulares y no solo a los funcionarios públicos, por el uso de información pública. Esto podría exponer a la sociedad civil o a los periodistas a sanciones por informar sobre información que ya ha sido divulgada por un tercero.
    • Se ampliaría la capacidad del gobierno y otros entes públicos para reclasificar información que es de naturaleza oficiosa, de modo que podría restringir fácilmente la divulgación automática de información al público.
    • Ya había problemas con el proceso de selección de los miembros del organismo garante del acceso a la información (Instituto de Acceso a la Información Pública- IAIP), en particular en lo que respecta a la interferencia política, por ejemplo, porque el presidente nombraba formalmente a todos los miembros. Sin embargo, las reformas limitarían aún más el papel de los actores no gubernamentales, incluida la sociedad civil, en la proposición de candidatos.
    • Las reformas limitarían las circunstancias en las que un solicitante de información puede acudir personalmente a consultar directamente copias físicas de la información.

Nuestro índice RTI actualizado para la clasificación del El Salvador de acuerdo a su marco legal, tomando en cuenta que se aprobaran estas enmiendas está disponible aquí .

Para más información contactar a:

Laura Notess
Senior Legal Officer
Centro para la Democracia y el Derecho
Email: laura@law-democracy.org
+1 782 234-4471
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Launch of Toolkit for Judges on Freedom of Expression

gavel7 February 2022.

The Training Manual for Judges on International Standards on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, a comprehensive toolkit for supporting judges to take into account international human rights standards on freedom of expression in their decisions, is being launched today. The toolkit was prepared by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) in collaboration with International Media Support (IMS), UNESCO and the Judicial Institute of Jordan, and piloted at a training of judges in Amman, Jordan in September/October 2021.

“The launch of this toolkit is a major achievement and the culmination of an important collaborative effort among the four key partners,” said Toby Mendel. “We hope to be able to train judges not only in Jordan but throughout the Arab World using this high-powered resource.”

The toolkit is divided into six main modules, namely: International and National Guarantees of Freedom of Expression, The Legitimate Scope of Criminal and Civil Law Restrictions on the Right to Freedom of Expression, Legal Resolution of Attacks on Freedom of Expression, The Right to Access Public Information, Media Regulation to Promote Free, Independent and Diverse Media, and Regulating Freedom of Expression in the Digital Era. It also has a number of annexes addressing common questions and answers, and containing exercises to support the training and additional resources.

‘’Journalists need a competent and independent judiciary to protect their right to free expression.  The more judges are trained on this topic, the more steps are being taken towards the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression. We hope the manual will help judges in translating the theoretical frameworks underpinning the right to freedom of expression into practice,” stated Min Jeong Kim, UNESCO Representative to Jordan.

The key objective of the toolkit is to promote freedom of expression by helping judges integrate international standards on this fundamental human right into their domestic decisions. It builds on work in this area by UNESCO in Latin America and Africa but is specifically tailored to freedom of expression issues that are commonly found in the Arab World.

Integrity and independence are equally important for journalists and judges. Supporting the judicial system in their work with the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression is a key activity, including when it comes to combatting impunity for crimes against journalists. It is our hope that this manual will be widely used,” says Jesper Højberg, Executive Director at IMS (International Media Support).

The toolkit is available English here and in Arabic here

For further information, please contact:

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

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Are You a Law Student Interested in International Human Rights? Summer Internship Applications Now Open

21 January 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will host up to four interns for the summer of 2022. The position will involve a range of substantive legal work in areas such as freedom of expression, media law, digital rights and access to information.

CLD provides expert legal services on foundational rights for democracy for the support and promotion of these rights around the world. Select recent projects include:

    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in countries around the world on media law and human rights issues.
    • Maintaining a comprehensive rating of the strength of access to information laws globally (rti-rating.org).
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in different countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into legal reform processes in different countries, such as in including Vietnam, Samoa and Jordan.
    • Supporting strategic litigation on the human rights issues we focus on.
    • Supporting the development of networks of media lawyers in several countries globally.
    • Maintaining a global ranking of right to information laws (RTI-Rating.org) and a methodology for assessing the quality of implementation of right to information laws (RTI-Evaluation.org).
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

We ask interns to commit to at least three months full-time work during the months of May to August. We normally ask interns to be based in our office in Halifax, since we believe being with us in-person provides a richer all-round experience for interns. However, given the ongoing pandemic, we will accommodate remote internships if necessitated by travel restrictions or other pandemic-related restrictions. These positions are unpaid and we encourage prospective interns to seek funding from their law schools or other sources.

CLD is known for providing its interns with a rich and varied substantive legal experience. As such, interns will have the opportunity to be directly involved in advancing the cause of human rights, normally in a range of countries, over the summer. For more information on CLD’s work, visit our website at www.law-democracy.org.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their resume, cover letter and unofficial law school transcripts to laura@law-democracy.org by 15 February 2022. Final candidates may be asked to provide a writing sample.

Successful candidates will have a strong academic record, excellent research skills, the ability to multi-task, and a demonstrated commitment to international law and human rights. Languages and international experience are assets. Applicants should be current law students or recent graduates; on an exceptional basis we will consider candidates without a law background.

CLD is an equal opportunity employer and will not discriminate against any applicant on the basis of characteristics such as age, disability, gender, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.

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Panel Discussion Launch of SDG16 DI’s 2021 Global Report

7 December 2021. Toby Mendel, the Executive Director of Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), will today be speaking at an online discussion panel from 11:00 – 12:30 EST at the launch of the 2021 Global Report of the Sustainable Development Goal 16 Data Initiative (SDG16 DI). The SDG16 DI is a consortium dedicated to promoting non-official data on the implementation and tracking of progress toward the targets that comprise the UN-adopted Sustainable Development Goal 16 on achieving peaceful, inclusive and just societies by 2030. The 2021 SDG16 DI Global Report is a resource on civil society methodologies designed to measure progress on SDG 16 targets and indicators. Toby Mendel is the author of two of the chapters in the Global Report, one on disinformation and one assessing progress towards achieving SDG Target 16.10.

“The pandemic has obstructed both the official and non-official measurement of progress on SDG 16, while disinformation has had a serious negative impact on both,” said Toby Mendel. “The SDG16 DI Global Report provides important insights into both of these issues and how non-official data can deepen and enrich our understanding of where countries are in terms of achieving SDG 16.”

The panel, Impact of the Pandemic on Measuring Progress of SDG16+: Looking Forward, Tackling Obstacles, is being convened by International IDEA, the current coordinator of SDG16 DI. The panel will be moderated by Massimo Tommasoli (International IDEA) and feature Toby Mendel (CLD), Sarah Long (World Justice Project), Haakon Gjerløw (Peace Research Institute Oslo), Ivana Vucinic (Global Forum for Media Development) and Miguel Otaola (International IDEA). Panelists will present the main findings of the Global Report and, in doing so, will help articulate the linkage between SDG 16 and the fight against corruption, respect for human rights and resistance against rising authoritarianism.

To attend the online discussion panel, please register here.

To read the Global Report, click here.

 

For further information, please contact:

 

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

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Mongolia: Friendship Medal Awarded to the Centre for Law and Democracy’s Executive Director

6 December 2021. Toby Mendel, the Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), will today be presented with the Mongolian Friendship Medal by Mongolia’s Ambassador to Canada at a formal ceremony in Ottawa, Canada. The Friendship Medal, one of the highest honours that can be conferred on a foreigner by the Government of Mongolia, is being awarded in recognition of Toby Mendel’s contribution to democracy, and freedom of the press and expression in Mongolia.

“I feel deeply honoured to receive the Friendship Medal from the Government of Mongolia,” said Toby Mendel. “It has been an immense privilege to work for many years in partnership with the Mongolian Government and civil society colleagues to advance foundational human rights that underpin Mongolian democracy.”

Toby has been engaging in law reform and capacity building work in Mongolia since 2002, first with ARTICLE 19 and then with CLD. This has included legal analyses and drafting support for Mongolian laws and bills, such as the Law on Information Transparency and the Right to Information, adopted in 2011, and various versions of the draft Broadcasting Law. CLD has also undertaken regular missions to the country to hold training workshops, discuss legal reform opportunities with stakeholders and assess the media law landscape. Additionally, CLD has been engaged with Mongolian media law development processes in various external fora, including a 2013 UNESCO-led National Media Conference that assessed the country’s media sector in accordance with internationally accepted media development indicators.

CLD looks forward to continuing the important work of advancing freedom of expression and other key human rights in Mongolia in the years to come.

For further information, please contact:

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

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For the Myanmar Press Council, Legitimacy Requires Independence

5 December 2021.

The military regime running Myanmar recently hosted members of the new Myanmar Press Council (MPC) at a much-vaunted ceremony in Nay Pyi Taw. But the new MPC, appointed by the military after former members resigned following the February coup, does not have the independence needed to act as a legitimate media regulatory body.

The MPC, as provided for in the 2014 News Media Law, should be an independent body which is responsible for resolving disputes regarding the media. It is meant to serve as an alternative to legal action, such as criminal charges.

“Prior to the February coup, the Myanmar Press Council acted independently to affirm media freedom and to promote media professionalism in Myanmar,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Sadly, due to military interference, it can no longer be relied upon to act as an independent institution.”

International standards call for media to be regulated via a professional, independent oversight body. If a media regulator is established by law, the following principles apply:

    • The entity should be strictly independent from the government and political parties
    • Members should be experts appointed with limited government influence
    • The body should support media freedom

These principles are not respected in the current arrangements regarding the MPC. The new Council’s leadership has strong military ties. The military has also shown it improperly expects the MPC to serve as an enforcer of government messaging. In February, it directed the Council to tell journalists to avoid certain “incorrect words” about the coup.

CLD has prepared a short Note on international standards governing media regulatory bodies and the situation of the Myanmar Press Council. It is available in English and Burmese.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Interested in an Exciting Career as an International Human Rights Lawyer?

10 November 2021.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is looking for a successful, highly motivated person to begin working with us as a Legal Officer starting in January 2022 or shortly thereafter.

The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting, cutting edge legal work in countries all over the world, high-level representational opportunities and the chance to undertake a wide range of different types of activities, working as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, with a focus on freedom of expression, the right to information, the freedoms of association and assembly and the right to participate. The position combines top-level legal analysis and standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is an important part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings (subject to COVID-19 restrictions).

We expect the Legal Officer to be based out of our office in Halifax, Canada, again subject to the current rules relating to COVID-19.

About the Organisation

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Canada, which provides expert legal services globally on foundational rights for democracy, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information, digital rights and the right to participate. Our major ongoing projects include:

    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in different countries on media law and human rights issues. Currently, this includes developing a MOOC on the right to information for UNESCO and providing training on freedom of expression for judges in Jordan.
    • Providing expert input into legal reform processes in different countries, currently including Vietnam, Samoa and Jordan.
    • Supporting strategic litigation on the human rights issues we focus on.
    • Supporting the development of networks of media lawyers in several countries globally.
    • Maintaining a global ranking of right to information laws (RTI-Rating.org) and a methodology for assessing the quality of implementation of right to information laws (RTI-Evaluation.org).
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D. or equivalent).
    • Knowledge of human rights law, ideally including freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high-level audience, as well as clear statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation and policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious and social backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, including under pressure.
    • Strong interpersonal skills and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • A degree in another field relevant to our area or work (journalism, digital technology, international development studies, etc.).
    • Prior experience working or volunteering in the human rights field, including on freedom of expression or the right to information.
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital rights issues.
    • Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South.
    • Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets.
    • Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors.
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their resume, cover letter and latest law school transcripts (unofficial are acceptable) to laura@law-democracy.org. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled but we will start reviewing applications on 1 December 2021 and will prioritise applications received by that date.

The salary range for this position will be CAD 60,000-70,000 depending on experience. The position is a full-time, one-year contract subject to renewal. The language of work is English. For a description of job duties, see Legal Officer Job Description.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage all applicants without regard to race, colour, religion, gender, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other legally protected ground. This commitment applies to all aspects of employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits and termination.

Centre for Law and Democracy
39 Chartwell Lane
Halifax, N.S., B3M 3S7
Canada

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Myanmar: Analysis of Amendments to the Broadcasting Law

8 November 2021. The military regime running Myanmar adopted amendments to the country’s formerly progressive Broadcasting Law on 1 November 2021. Adopted without any public consultations, the amendments make profound changes to the scope of the law so that it defines various online activities as “broadcasting”. They also add imprisonment as a sentence to the key offences in the Law, which had formerly just been subject to administrative fines. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing its Analysis of the Second Amendment of the Broadcasting Law, which provides a detailed assessment of the impact of the amendments and how they breach international human rights guarantees.

“When one considers the amendments as a package, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the real aim is to criminalise online behaviour which is critical of the military regime,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “If so, these amendments represent yet one more measure by the regime to control freedom of expression in the country.”

All of the amendments breach various human rights guarantees, including those relating to freedom of expression and criminal due process. The Broadcasting Law now defines as “broadcasting” the use of “any other technology for the people to directly catch the television and radio programmes” while the former exclusion of Internet-based broadcasting has been removed. Because this is so vague, and depending on how it is interpreted, the Law could now treat as broadcasting anything ranging from audio or video social media posts to personal websites to online actors that do resemble broadcasters. Given that broadcasting requires a licence under the Broadcasting Law, and that many other conditions are imposed on it, this expansion of the scope of its requirements is a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression.

The addition of prison sentences for a number of actions, such as broadcasting without a licence or once a licence has been suspended, effectively transforms these from administrative to criminal offences. The duration of prison sentences ranges from six months to five years and in each case involves minimum sentences (i.e. so that conviction will necessarily result in imprisonment of at least a given duration, which varies from six months to three years, depending on the offence). These harsh penalties represent a breach not only of freedom of expression but also the right to liberty, protection against cruel and unusual punishment and criminal due process rights.

CLD’s Analysis of the Amendments is available here in Burmese and in English.

For further information, please contact:
Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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British Columbia: Note on Needed Revisions to Proposed Amendments to the Access to Information Legislation

1 November 2021. 

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing a Note providing in-depth assessments of the main proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) which are being proposed by the government of British Columbia, Canada, through Bill 22. The proposals represent a serious backsliding on transparency in British Columbia. Last week, CLD released its assessment of Bill 22 based on the RTI Rating, a sophisticated methodology for evaluating the strength of legal frameworks for the right to information. This Note provides an individualised evaluation of the major changes introduced by Bill 22, analysing their impact and proposing revisions, as appropriate.

“Bill 22 offers a few very modest positive reforms, but these are completely overshadowed by a number of very problematic proposals, as well as Bill 22’s total failure to address numerous imperative FIPPA reform needs,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Bill 22 should be rejected in favour of genuine reform made following an inclusive process of consultation.”

CLD’s Note proposes the wholesale removal of several provisions, as follows:

    • The amendments to Schedule 2 which remove the Office of the Premier and the Executive Council (cabinet) from the scope of FIPPA’s obligations to disclose information.
    • New sections 3(5)(c) and (d), which exclude certain metadata and deleted electronic records from the scope of disclosure obligations.
    • New section 75(1)(a), which allows authorities to impose a “prescribed application fee” for requests for information.

In other cases, the Note proposes the reconsideration, or at least substantial redrafting, of proposed amendments, as follows:

    • Amended section 76.1, allowing the minister to expand the coverage of FIPPA to public authorities in the public interest, is useful but FIPPA generally needs a much broader structural definition of the public authorities it covers.
    • New section 3(5)(b), creating an exception for records which are unrelated “to the business of the public body”, should either be removed or replaced with an exception which is limited to the private use of publicly-run information systems or publicly-owned devices.
    • New section 18.1, creating an exception for information which would “harm the rights of an Indigenous people”, should be redrafted far more clearly and precisely to focus on specific legitimate interests which need to be protected by secrecy.

Bill 22 has been portrayed by its proponents as a long-awaited reform of FIPPA. In reality, it does little to advance the right to information and much to undermine it. CLD calls on the government of British Columbia to drop Bill 22 and, instead, to engage in a democratic process of reform based on a proper human rights analysis and the results of the Special Committee to Review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act process.

CLD’s Note on Bill 22 is available at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Canada.BC_.Bill-22.Oct21.FINAL_.pdf

For further information, please contact:

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

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British Columbia: Proposed Amendments Significantly Weaken Access to Information Legislation

27 October 2021.

An assessment by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) using its internationally renowned RTI Rating has found that the amendments currently being considered by the Canadian province of British Columbia, in the form of Bill 22, would significantly undermine the right of individuals to access information held by public authorities. Specifically, the amendments would drop the province’s score from 98 points out of a possible total of 150 to 92 points. Whereas British Columbia once had aspirations to have the best legislation in Canada, with these proposed amendments it would drop to fourth place, nearly 20 points behind leader Newfoundland and Labrador, as CLD’s Canadian RTI Rating shows.

It is enormously disappointing to see British Colombia backsliding so badly on this key democratic issue”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The harmful proposals are clearly unjustified and, even more importantly, nothing is being proposed to address the many weaknesses in the current legislation.

The three areas where points would be lost are:

    • Narrowing the scope of application of the legislation to exclude metadata, deleted electronic records, the Office of the Premier and the Executive Council (cabinet).
    • Imposing a fee simply for making a request.
    • Expanding the scope of the exceptions.

One point was also gained for broadening sanctions for obstructing the right of access.

Problems in the current legislation, which are either ignored or exacerbated by the proposed amendments, include:

    • An unduly narrow scope, including in relation to legislative and judicial bodies.
    • Weaknesses in the procedures for making and responding to requests, including the time limits for responding to requests.
    • An unduly broad regime of exceptions, including several that are either overbroad or not harm tested.
    • A very weak set of promotional measures.

CLD’s Rating of Bill 22 is available at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/BC.Oct21.Bill_.xls.

For further information, please contact:

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

 

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Maldives: Launch of Report on Media Environment

23 October 2021.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), working in collaboration with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), today launched an in-depth report into the situation in the Maldives facing the media and journalists, Maldives: Overview of the Environment for Media.

This report is part of a wider engagement by the three organisations to try to lever the current political will in the country, which seems to be more open to positive change, to bring laws, policies and practices affecting the media more fully into line with human rights standards.

The Maldives has fluctuated up and down quite a lot in terms of its rules and practices on freedom of expression and media freedom,” said Toby Mendel. “We are hopeful that some positive changes can be achieved at this time, and this report points the way forward in that regard.

The report starts by providing an overview of international standards on freedom of expression, alongside an analysis of Maldivian constitutional guarantees. Subsequent sections of the report focus on regulation of the media, content restrictions and transparency. Some of the key issues highlighted the report include:

    • The lack of independent of media regulatory bodies, as well as in the judiciary.
    • Prevailing impunity for murders of and attacks on journalists.
    • The need for significant structural changes in the rules on media regulation, including to abolish the 1978 Newspapers and Magazines Act, to explicitly recognise community broadcasting and to completely revise the system for blocking websites.
    • To review and introduce wide-ranging amendments to the legal restrictions on what content may be disseminated through the media and generally.
    • To introduce comprehensive privacy/data protection law.
    • To put in place measures to implement properly the otherwise strong Right to Information Act.

The report is available in English at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Maldives-Report.Final_.pdf

For further information, please contact:

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

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2021 Joint Declaration on Politicians and Freedom of Expression

20 October 2021.

Today, the specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their annual statement, the Joint Declaration on Politicians and Public Officials and Freedom of Expression. The Joint Declaration, which was drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), sets out standards which States and a range of non-State actors should respect regarding communications by politicians and senior public officials.

The 2021 Joint Declaration breaks important new ground in several respects”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It includes a significant focus on the need for different actors – including States, politicians, social media companies and the media – to take steps to address political speech which promotes intolerance or hatred, or which constitutes disinformation, such as calling on political parties to adopt codes of conduct for officials and candidates and for the media to implement policies on how they report on such statements when they are disseminated by politicians.

Some of the many specific standards in the Joint Declaration include the following:

    • States should never try to influence the views of the public for party political purposes.
    • Elected officials, candidates for elected office and senior public officials should be required to make transparent asset declarations.
    • Politicians and public officials should treat participants at press conferences equitably and with respect.
    • Social media companies should allow users to opt out of having their personal data used for purposes of targeted political advertising.
    • The media should disclose any conflicts of interest which may affect the way they report on an issue.

The 2021 Joint Declaration is available in the following languages:

Arabic
English
French
Spanish
Portuguese

For further information, please contact:

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

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Happy International Right to Know Day!

28 September 2021, International Right to Know Day, is a day when people around the world celebrate the right to access information held by public authorities, or the right to information. UNESCO recognised the day as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) in 2016 and it was recognised as a general UN day in October 2019.

“The right to information has become more and more recognised both formally and in terms of attention and focus on it each year that passes,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “Today, it is recognised as a human right internationally, it is a formal UN day, it is reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 135 countries globally have adopted RTI laws; CLD is proud to be celebrating this important human right with friends and colleagues around the world.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is undertaking or participating in four main activities on this day. First, we are hosting a panel on Reform of the Federal Access to Information Act: Perspectives on the Procedure and Substance at Right To Know Week 2021, a Canadian event celebrating the right to information (RTI). CLD’s panel will take place from noon to 12:50pm EST on 1 Oct 2021; a link to the event schedule is available here, and registration is available here. 

Second, CLD’s Executive Director, Toby Mendel, is collaborating in a number of UNESCO events, including as a speaker on two of their main celebratory panels, namely Panel 1Access to Information Laws during the Decade of Action: Trends and Challenges, and Panel 6Access to information – regional perspectives and UNESCO Policy Guide. Many of the other UNESCO panels also cover fascinating topics, so please take a look at the full agenda. Toby Mendel is also participating in-person at UNESCO’s Jordan event, hosting jointly with the Judicial Institute of Jordan, in an event on The role of judicial operators in the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. This will be followed up by providing a four-day training programme on freedom of expression for judges in Jordan.

Third, CLD is releasing a report about RTI implementation in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on a series of test requests, the report looks at how well Canadian institutions discharged their RTI obligations during the pandemic. This report is available here.

Fourth, CLD is updating the RTI Rating page in two key ways. First, as we have been doing for the last few years, we are updating the Rating with new countries which adopted laws recently. We are also adding a new feature: the Ratings of sub-national entities such as Puerto Rico or the Kurdistan region of Iraq can now be found alongside our Ratings for international institutions. Many more subnational Ratings will be uploaded to this page in the coming months.  

For further information, please contact:

 

J.Y. Hoh
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: jyhoh@law-democracy.org
+1 416 833 2918
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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