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Mauritius: Broad Content Restrictions in Judicial and Legal Provisions Act

7 November 2018,

Mauritius adopted the Judicial and Legal Provisions Act in May 2018. The Act focuses on the judicial process but it also includes a few provisions which restrict freedom of expression. An analysis released today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) highlights problems with these provisions.

The new rules prohibiting blasphemy and providing for special protection against criticism for judges do not respect international guarantees of freedom of expression”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “While it is legitimate to prohibit hate speech, such rules need to be carefully and narrowly tailored, which is unfortunately not the case with this provision.

One rule, making it an offence to insult judges, ushers and officials, appears to be a new addition to the legal framework in Mauritius. It is unclear why the government introduced this provision when the clear international trend is to recognise that these individuals, like other officials, should be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism than ordinary officials.

The other rules only amend slightly existing prohibitions in the Criminal Code. The blasphemy rule is particularly problematical inasmuch as it not only protects religions but also good morals and public morality. These latter concepts are not only undefined but run directly counter to the principle that the right to freedom of expression protects unpopular and even offensive speech. The hate speech rule is the least problematical of the three, but it is cast in unduly broad terms and provides for wholly disproportionate sanctions of up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

CLD urges the government of Mauritius to amend these rules so as to bring them into line with international standards.

CLD’s Analysis of the content restrictions in the Judicial and Legal Provisions Act is available at: Note on the Judicial and Legal Provisions Act 2018 of Mauritius.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Consultative Meeting on Civil Society Engagement with the League of Arab States

29 October 2018,

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) (Canada), Transparency Maroc (TM), Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Maharat Foundation (Lebanon) and Social Economic Forum for Women Organization (Jordan) jointly hosted a consultative meeting in Amman from 25-26 October 2018. The focus of the meeting, which is a continuation of the organisations’ earlier work in this area, was on how to improve the opportunities for civil society organisations to engage with the League of Arab States (LAS).

A report on Improving Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States, launched in September, found that the LAS lagged significantly behind other comparable inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) when it came to the issue of engagement.

The consultative meeting reviewed engagement rules and systems at other IGOs and compared them to the policy and practice at the LAS to identify specific gaps and areas for improvement. An important focus of the meeting was on how to advocate to enhance the performance of the LAS in this area.

A key outcome of the meeting was agreement on a Charter for Improving Civil Society Engagement with the League of Arab States, attached as an annex to this press release. The Charter sets out a civil society vision for the steps needed to improve the system of engagement with the LAS. The first set of recommendations calls on the LAS to conduct an open and inclusive process of consultation with civil society with a view to putting in place a new framework for engagement. The Charter also calls for a number of short-term measures, including in relation to access to information and opportunities for consultation.

A number of organisations have already endorsed the Charter and we are seeking further endorsements from civil society groups based in the Arab World.

The Charter can be accessed in English and Arabic at: [in English here] and [in Arabic here]. For an Arabic version of this press release, 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

Roula Mikhael
Executive Director
Maharat Foundation
Email: roula.mikhael@maharatfoundation.org
+961 3 612 413
http://www.maharatfoundation.org

Mousa Rimwa
General Director
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Email: m.rimawi@madacenter.org
+970 22976519
http://www.madacenter.org

Fouad Zirari
Staff Coordinator
Transparency Maroc
Email: fouadzirari@gmail.com
+212 06 61 09 61 68
http://transparencymaroc.ma/TM/

Amal Shawahneh
Director
Social Economic Forum for Women Organization
Email: amalshaw@hotmail.com
+962 795528197
http://www.mnt.org.jo

Charter for Improving Civil Society Engagement with the League of Arab States

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, based in different Arab countries,

Recognising the foundational importance for inter-governmental organisations, including the League of Arab States, of engaging in genuine consultations with civil society so as to improve their policy and decision-making processes, to build better relations with their constituents, who are ultimately the people living in Arab States, and to promote greater democracy in and accountability for their work;

Noting that the League of Arab States falls far short of better international practice, including the practice of similar inter-governmental organisations in other regions of the world, when it comes to engaging with civil society;

Stressing that the current civil society engagement arrangements and practices at the League of Arab States not only fail to respect basic human rights and democratic norms but also undermine the effectiveness, influence and legitimacy of the League of Arab States;

Emphasising that the trend, at both the national government and the inter-governmental levels, is strongly towards increasing engagement opportunities for civil society;

Recalling that effective engagement involves transparency, particularly around the subjects of engagement, and concrete and effective consultation opportunities;

Highlighting the fact that many civil society organisations based in Arab countries are both interested in and fully able to participate effectively in more genuine engagement opportunities at the League of Arab States, should such opportunities become available;

Call on the League of Arab States to undertake the following actions to improve its engagement with civil society:

  1. Consultations about Engagement

The League of Arab States should conduct an open and inclusive process of consultation with civil society with a view to putting in place a new framework for engagement. This should respect the following:

  • The process should be collaborative in nature, along the lines of a partnership or joint effort between the parties,[1] with the League of Arab States working closely with civil society to explore options for a strong engagement framework.
  • The process should be transparent, with the League of Arab States providing civil society with access to all of the documents it needs to participate fully in the consultation process and with information about the positions of different stakeholders and how it was used being provided.
  • The League of Arab States should make a commitment at the beginning of the process to revise substantially its current approach to civil society engagement, including by adopting a new policy framework for this.
  • Consideration should be given to creating a new, dedicated structure within the League of Arab States to lead on this process, in an attempt to address current relationship shortcomings and to build trust with civil society.
  1. Access to Information

Ensuring access to information is key to building trust and to facilitating real engagement. The League of Arab States should practise far greater levels of openness than in the past. Following consultations, it should adopt a dedicated information disclosure policy in line with better international practice among inter-governmental organisations. In the meantime, it should do the following:

  • Publish, sufficiently in advance, information, including the agendas, of key meetings and other engagement opportunities, along with key relevant background documents, subject only to legitimate grounds for secrecy.
  • Respond promptly and fulsomely to requests for information, including by appointing staff with dedicated responsibilities for doing this.
  • Take full advantage, in doing the above, of digital technologies, including by providing information for free and in open digital formats.
  1. Short-term Engagement Measures

The League of Arab States should undertake the following measures to improve engagement over the short term, pending the outcome of the consultation process noted above:

  • The current observer status system should be transformed into a consultative status approach, so that individuals and organisations with status benefit from a range of engagement rights and opportunities. This should include the rights to make submissions and interventions, and not merely the right to attend meetings and listen to official actors.
  • The process of obtaining status should be open, streamlined and insulated from political or other irrelevant considerations, so that status is given to any organisation which meets pre-defined conditions for obtaining consultative status.
  • To the extent possible, the grant of status should directly enable the holder to engage with a range of League of Arab States bodies, including, in particular, those dealing with human rights and economic and social development.
  • A number of engagement options beyond the status system should be put in place, such as the ability to apply on an ad hoc basis to attend a particular meeting or to work with the League of Arab States to implement projects or policies.

Endorsements

  1. ADALA, Morocco
  2. Maharat Foundation, Lebanon
  3. Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
  4. Social Economic Forum for Women Organization, Jordan
  5. TAFRA, Morocco
  6. Transparency Maroc

[1] As an example, Open Government Partnership (OGP) guidance on consultation is available at: http://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/attachments/OGP_consultation%20FINAL.pdf.

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Afghanistan Jumps to Top Position on RTI Rating

28 September 2018,

In an exciting development, Afghanistan has replaced Mexico at the very top of the RTI Rating, with an impressive score of 139 points out of a possible 150, or 93%. Mexico is now in second place, with 136 points, followed by Serbia with 135 and Sri Lanka with 131. An updated version of the RTI Rating website was launched today, International Right to Know Day, with ratings for 123 countries, up from the 111 that were hosted on the old site.

The RTI Rating is a sophisticated methodology for assessing the strength of the legal framework for the right to information (RTI), developed by the Centre for Law and Democracy (Canada) and Access Info Europe (Spain). Every country which has adopted a national RTI law is ranked on the RTI Rating in due course.

It is tremendous that Afghanistan has passed such an incredibly strong RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy. “Although implementation is always a challenge, this law will at least give the country the tools it needs to ensure its citizens can access information from public authorities.”

Countries from the Global South dominate the top of the RTI Rating, with not a single Western country in the top 25. All but one of the countries in the top 25 positions adopted their laws since 2000, reflecting the fact that RTI laws are, on average, getting stronger and stronger as time goes on. Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2 sets the adoption and implementation of an RTI law as a common standard of achievement for all States, which has given new impetus to the advancement of this human right.

Note for editors

More information on the RTI Rating, including the detailed results, can be found at: www.rti-rating.org/. The results can be viewed in a number of different ways, including by country or by indicator.

For further information, please contact:

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

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CLD Hosts Trivia Night on the Right to Information

27 September 2018, Halifax

On 26 September 2018, in anticipation of International Right to Know Day, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner Nova Scotia, and The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia sponsored a trivia night on the theme of “It’s Your Right to Know!” at the Board Room Game Cafe in downtown Halifax. The host for the evening was Fola Adeleke, Freedom of Information and Privacy Officer at the Nova Scotia Health Authority and Senior Research Fellow at the Mandela Institute at Wits University.

Participants delved into topics such as the foundations of the right to information in international human rights law, the history of access to information laws and the practicalities of making a freedom of information request in Nova Scotia. Would you have been able to answer the following questions?

Which country was the first ever to adopt a right to information law? The answer is Sweden, in 1766.

As of today, how many countries have adopted national right to know laws? Over 120 countries have adopted such laws.

What is the basis, in international human rights law, of the right to information? The right to information is considered part of the right to freedom of expression.

True or false: in Nova Scotia, most access to information requests are made by the media. False; most requests are made by the business sector.

What is the longest time extension claimed by the Canadian government in response to an access to information request, based on complaints to the Information Commissioner of Canada? The answer here 9,840 days, which is almost 27 years.

If you would like to learn more about the right to information, visit the media page of the Centre for Law and Democracy’s website (https://www.law-democracy.org/live/media), join our mailing list (https://www.law-democracy.org/live/join-our-mailing-list) or check out the RTI Rating website (rti-rating.org).

For further information, please contact:

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

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

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Report on Improving Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States

24 September 2018,

A major report on Improving Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States was launched in English and Arabic today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) (Canada), Transparency Maroc (TM), Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and Maharat Foundation (Lebanon). The report looks at transparency and consultation opportunities at the League of Arab States (LAS) and compares them to opportunities at other inter-governmental organisations – such as the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States and the World Bank – finding that the LAS is significantly less open to civil society engagement in its work.

The report notes that civil society engagement is more important today than ever before, including to address the democratic deficit that plagues most inter-governmental organisations, to harness the ideas and links to local populations that civil society offers, and to bolster credibility and hence effectiveness. All of these are key needs for the LAS, which currently largely excludes civil society from most of its work.

The four main recommendations for reform are set out in the report as follows:

  • Consulting about Consulting: the LAS should reach out to Arab civil society to discuss what steps need to be taken to improve engagement opportunities.
  • Access to Information: the LAS should commit to far greater levels of transparency than in the past and, over time, adopt a dedicated information disclosure policy.
  • Accreditation: the current observer status system should be transformed into a consultative status approach which is far more accessible to civil society organisations and which grants those with status not just the right to listen but also the right to participate.
  • Other Issues: the LAS should also support engagement in other ways such as by offering concrete support, including funding, and by creating specific forums for engagement.

The report can be accessed in English and Arabic at: Improving Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States [English] and Improving Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States [Arabic].

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

Roula Mikhael
Executive Director
Maharat Foundation
Email: roula.mikhael@maharatfoundation.org
+961 3 612 413
http://www.maharatfoundation.org

Mousa Rimwa
General Director
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Email: m.rimawi@madacenter.org
+970 22976519
http://www.madacenter.org

Fouad Zirari
Staff Coordinator
Transparency Maroc
Email: fouadzirari@gmail.com
+212 06 61 09 61 68
http://transparencymaroc.ma/TM/

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Join CLD for a Right to Know Day Trivia Night

Trivia Night: It’s Your Right to Know!

Wednesday 26 September  2018

7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Board Game Room Cafe

1256 Barrington St., Halifax

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IDB Invest: Draft Information Policy Needs Improvement

27 August 2018,

IDB Invest is conducting a consultation on the draft Access to Information Policy it circulated in April 2018. In its Analysis of the draft Policy, released today, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) welcomes advances over the 2005 Policy which is currently in force but also notes that significant improvements are needed if IDB Invest is to respect international standards relating to the right to information. As with many international financial institution (IFI) information policies, the regime of exceptions is the most problematical area, but weaknesses are also found in other areas, notably in relation to the procedures for making and processing requests and the system of appeals.

The new policy proposals would do a lot to make IDB Invest more transparent”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “But it is failing to take the bold steps that are needed if it really wants to realise the principle of maximum disclosure proclaimed in the draft Policy.

One of the more serious problems with the regime of exceptions is that it essentially grants third parties a veto over the disclosure of information provided by them, instead of simply protecting their legitimate interests. A more general problem is that while many exceptions start with a reasonably tight statement of the interest being protected against harm, they go on to list a number of overbroad, non-harm tested categories of exempt information.

Other areas of concern include:

  • The policy would only apply to information created after it came into effect.
  • The rules on the processing of requests and the system for appointing members of the appeals bodies are not detailed enough.
  • There are no sanctions for wilful obstruction of access and or protections for good faith disclosure of information.
  • The draft Policy contains a number of technical weaknesses, many of which give rise to uncertainty about how the policy would be applied.

CLD urges IDB Invest to introduce substantial changes to the draft Policy, in line with the recommendations in its Analysis.

CLD’s Analysis of IDB Invest’s draft Policy is available here: Analysis of IDB Invest’s Draft Access to Information Policy

For further information, please contact:

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

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Canada: Statement on Draft Openness Commitments

27 July 2018,

On 23 July 2018, the government of Canada published its Draft Commitments: Canada’s 2018-20 National Action Plan on Open Government, one of its obligations as a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which Canada currently co-chairs. In response to a call for feedback, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) today sent a formal Statement to the government outlining how the Draft Commitments should be improved to meet public demands in terms of access to information.

“We welcome the fact that the government is promising a ‘full review’ of the Access to Information Act,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, an identical promise to review the Act by the end of 2018 in the last National Action Plan will not be met and so, this time, we are asking for something more concrete, such as the tabling of a bill amending the Act in Parliament.

The government has largely failed to deliver on its promises to improve the Access to Information Act, despite some progress in the form of an Interim Directive adopted in May 2016 and Bill C-58, currently before Parliament. In addition to calling for a more robust main commitment in this area in the new Action Plan, the CLD Statement focuses on:

  • The need to move the review forward, since it is currently timed to start only one year after Bill C-58 is adopted, which is likely to fall during the election period.
  • The review promises to cover important issues such as the scope of the Act, the timeliness of responses to requests and exceptions, but CLD would also like to see other procedural issues and matters such as a duty to document addressed.
  • The government should address the problem of delays on an urgent basis by putting in place soft measures immediately and then following up with law reform.
  • Many of the draft commitments – such as to increase the number of public bodies accepting electronic requests by 50 each year – are too modest, especially given that in countries like Mexico all public bodies accept such requests

The CLD Statement includes specific recommendations for improving Canada’s Draft OGP Commitments. The Statement is available here: Statement on the Draft Access to Information Commitments of Canada’s 2018-2020 National Action Plan on Open Government.

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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Pakistan: Assessing Implementation of the Right to Information

11 July 2018,

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has been working closely with the Information Commissions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces in Pakistan to develop a sophisticated, comprehensive methodology for assessing the quality of implementation of right to information (RTI) laws. Although the methodology is being designed in Pakistan, it will be easy to adapt it for other jurisdictions.

“This is groundbreaking development work in the area of the right to information,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD.“It is really exciting to be able to work with the Information Commissions and other stakeholders in Pakistan on something that will hopefully have global application.

The impetus for preparing this methodology has come in part from Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 16.10.2, which looks at whether States have adopted and implemented right to information legislation. The RTI Rating provides us with an accurate assessment of the first part of this – namely the adoption of RTI legislation – and this methodology supplements that by assessing implementation. The Methodology looks at four key areas, namely Central Measures, focusing on information commissions, Institutional Measures, focusing on structural measures taken by individual public authorities (like appointing an information officer), Proactive Disclosure and Reactive Disclosure (the processing of requests).

Extensive consultations around the draft methodology were conducted in February and again last week. The goal is to finalise the methodology soon and then pilot its application in one or two jurisdictions in Pakistan before revising it to take into account those results. The Methodology has been developed with the technical support of the German Development Cooperation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

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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Joint Statement on Ghana’s Right to Information Bill, 2018

2 July 2018,

Eight international organisations that promote respect for the right to information released a Joint Statement today calling on the Ghanaian authorities to review the Right to Information Bill, 2018, which is currently before parliament. The Statement outlines five key areas where the Bill fails to meet international standards.

“We very much welcome the fact that Ghana is finally moving forward with this important piece of legislation,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, the current version of the Bill needs to be improved so that it can provide a strong foundation for fighting corruption and promoting good governance and robust democratic participation for the people of Ghana.

In addition to the Centre for Law and Democracy, the seven other signatories to the Joint Statement are Access Info Europe, Africa Freedom of Information Centre, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Freedom of Information Coalition, Nigeria, International School for Transparency and Media Rights Agenda.

The five areas addressed in the Joint Statement are Exceptions, Scope and Requesting Procedures, Appeals, The Duty to Publish (Proactive  Disclosure) and Sanctions, Offences and Promotional Measures. For each issue, the Joint Statement highlights the key amendments that are needed to bring the Bill into line with better practice.

On 12 June 2018, CLD released a detailed analysis of the Bill along with an assessment of it based on the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org). The Bill scored 89 points out of a possible maximum of 150, which would place Ghana in 49th place globally out of the 111 countries currently on the Rating.

The Joint Statement is available at: Joint Statement on Ghana’s Right to Information Bill, 2018,  CLD’s 12 June analysis is available at: Analysis of Ghana’s Right to Information Bill

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 International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

18 June 2018,

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is seeking a Legal Officer to begin as soon as possible. We are looking for a successful, highly motivated person who will work from Halifax, Canada. The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting legal work, high level representational opportunities and the chance to travel globally.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level 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 a major 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. Salary for the position will be competitive and commensurate with experience. The Job Description is available at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Legal-Officer.Job-Description.18-06.pdf

About the Organisation:

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 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 and digital rights. Our major ongoing projects include:

  • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
  • Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
  • Engaging with multi-stakeholder partnerships such as the Governance Data Alliance and the Open Government Partnership to promote open access to information.
  • Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
  • 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.).
  • Significant demonstrable experience of working in the field of human rights, ideally specifically freedom of expression or the right to information.
  • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly 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 and concise position statements for general public consumption.
  • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
  • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
  • The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
  • Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
  • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
  • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
  • Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

  • An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
  • 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field.
  • 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.
  • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
  • The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
  • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and latest law school transcripts to info@law-democracy.org, by 11 July 2018.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage applicants for all positions 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 status. This commitment applies with regard to all aspects of one’s employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits, and termination.

 

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Ghana: Analysis of Right to Information Bill

12 June 2018,

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has released an Analysis of Ghana’s 2018 Right to Information Bill, which is now before parliament. The Analysis welcomes the fact that Ghana is finally moving forward to adopt this key piece of democratic legislation. At the same time, it highlights a number of weaknesses in the Bill, which would only be in 49thplace globally according to the RTI Rating.

“Ghana has been struggling to pass this legislation for a long time, so it is encouraging that the country is finally moving forward on it,” said Toby Mendel, Executive, CLD.“However, the Bill falls far short of better practice in this area, including that of the six African countries that are in the top twenty countries globally on right to information legislation.

Some of the key problems with the Bill include:

  • The lack of any proper definition of the key notion of a ‘public institution’.
  • An unduly limited set of proactive publication obligations.
  • Procedural problems such as a requirement to pay a fee simply to make a request, no obligation to provide a receipt for requests and some unclear time limits.
  • A significantly overbroad regime of exceptions which does not override secrecy laws and which includes both illegitimate exceptions and exceptions which do not depend on a risk of harm.
  • Protection of the independence of the Information Commission could be improved, in particular by reducing the role of the President in appointing members.
  • The lack of a proper system for promoting better records management.

CLD urges the Ghanaian authorities to incorporate our recommendations into the Bill before it is passed, so as to bring it more fully into line with international standards.

The Analysis is available here: Analysis of Ghana’s Right to Information Bill.
The Right to Information Bill is available here: Right to Information Bill, 2018

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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Bangladesh: Digital Security Bill Seriously Flawed

The government of Bangladesh recently approved a Digital Security Bill which has now been sent to parliament for its review and ultimately adoption. An Analysis by CLD shows that the Bill fails in several important ways to respect international guarantees of freedom of expression. This is despite the fact that a lot of criticism has already been directed at provisions in Bangladeshi laws which restrict freedom of expression online, under which 21 journalists were charged over just four months in 2017.

The Bill includes numerous provisions which either duplicate existing provisions in the Penal Code or establish restrictions on digital content which fail to respect international standards”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “We very much hope that the government recognises that this Bill is not the right way forward and, instead of trying to pass it, consults with local stakeholders with a view to amending it.

Some of the more serious problems with the Bill include:

  • Content restrictions which are vague and/or overbroad, which protect interests that are not recognised as legitimate under international law, or which duplicate offences that are already covered in more carefully tailored ways in the Penal Code.
  • Significant overreach, based on very wide definitions, leading to the criminalisation of perfectly innocuous activities, such as the fact that changing the settings on your own computer is included within the offence of hacking.
  • Oversight bodies that are firmly under government control, contrary to the international law rule that regulatory bodies for expressive activities need to be independent of government.
  • Leaving it up to the government to define the main functions and powers of key regulatory bodies, rather than including these in the primary legislation.

CLD calls on the government to substantially revise the Bill to address these and other problems, and then to table it in Parliament again.

The Analysis can be accessed here: Analysis of Bangladesh’s Draft Digital Security Bill

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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2018 Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs on Media Independence

Today, in Accra, Ghana, the four specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their 20th annual statement, the Joint Declaration on Media Independence and Diversity in the Digital Age. The Joint Declaration, which was drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), addresses modern threats to media independence and diversity, focusing separately on legal, political, technological and economic threats.

Click here for Joint Declaration in English
Click here for Joint Declaration in French
Click here for Joint Declaration in Spanish
Click here for Joint Declaration in Arabic
Click here for Joint Declaration in Russian

The Joint Declaration breaks new ground in several respects”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Among other things, it calls for strict limits in relation to laws focusing specifically on digital communications and for politicians to refrain from putting pressure on online platforms to regulate content.

The Joint Declaration also highlights a number of modern threats, including:

  • Harsh and unwarranted political attacks on the media.
  • Cyber-attacks on the media in retaliation for their reporting.
  • Legal requirements for online platforms to regulate content, including as part of the “right to be forgotten”.
  • The precarious economic environment which is posing a serious threat in particular to legacy media and the risk of anti-competitive practices by dominant market players.
  • The growth in information bubbles/silos, which threatens democratic systems, including elections.

The Joint Declaration also directs some recommendations to media and online platforms, including to respect human rights, to operate professionally, including by adopting fact-checking systems, to operate as transparently as possible, beyond minimum legal requirements, and, specifically for online platforms, to support the work of the media, while respecting media independence.

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: Analysis of draft Right to Information Law

A new Analysis by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) of the latest proposed Right to Information (RTI) Law reveals a relatively robust draft but with some shortcomings. The RTI Law, which will allow citizens to obtain information from public bodies, is key in any democracy, enhancing government accountability and improving trust between government and the people.

“It is encouraging that Myanmar is moving forward on this important issue, which will help it in its democratic transition,” said Toby Mendel, Executive, CLD. “We hope that when the law is placed before parliament they will be open to making changes to improve it further. Our work on this continues by working with media organisations and civil society organisations for which this law will be essential.

The draft RTI law was released in late December 2017. When adopted, Myanmar will join the nearly 120 countries around the world that have RTI legislation, although the draft has not yet been placed before parliament. The Analysis was prepared by CLD with the support of International Media Support (IMS) and Fojo Media Institute.

The Analysis points to both “easy wins”, changes which are relatively easy to make, and ‘important gains’, changes that are important but which may either encounter more opposition or require a bit more effort. Some of the key points are:

  • The law should make it clear that it covers all bodies created by statute as well as bodies which are owned, controlled or substantially funded by public bodies.
  • The law should include a list of categories of information that every public body must, at a minimum, publish proactively.
  • The procedures for lodging and processing requests should be substantially strengthened.
  • A public interest override should be added to the law, so that information covered by an exception would still be disclosed where this was in the overall public interest.
  • The law should include at least a general framework for the processing of appeals.
  • A clause on whistleblower protection should be added to the law.

We urge the parliament of Myanmar to consider the recommendations in our Analysis with a view to bringing the draft Law more fully into line with international standards.

The Analysis is available at: Myanmar: Analysis of Draft Right to Information Law

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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Morocco: Workshop on Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) (Canada), Transparency Maroc (TM), Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and Maharat Foundation (Lebanon) launched their project on Building Opportunities for Civil Society Engagement with the League of Arab States with a workshop in Rabat on 22-23 March 2018. The project seeks to explore ways to enhance transparency and opportunities for participation in the work of the League.

The workshop, which was attended by civil society and media representatives, discussed the serious democratic deficit at the League as compared to other inter-governmental organisations (IGOs), including regional bodies like the Council of Europe and Organization of American States. Compared to these other IGOs, the League of Arab States releases far less information about its activities and operates in a far less participatory fashion.

Participants noted that IGOs are bound by the obligation to provide access to the information they hold (the right to information), which is recognised under international human rights law. They also have an obligation to operate in a participatory fashion, as provided for in Article 13 of the UN Convention Against Corruption. Being open and participatory promotes accountability, improves decision-making and helps combat corruption. It is now imperative for Arab IGOs, including the League of Arab States, to join in the international trend among IGOs to do better in these areas.

At the end of the workshop, participants agreed on the following recommendations for the League of Arab States to improve its performance in terms of openness and participation:

  1. Consultations about Engagement

The LAS should conduct an open and inclusive consultation with Arab civil society with a view to putting in place a new framework for engagement. This should respect the following:

  • The process should be collaborative in nature, with the LAS working closely with civil society to explore options for a strong engagement framework.
  • The process should be transparent, with civil society being provided with access to all of the documents it needs to participate fully in the consultation.
  • The LAS should make a commitment at the beginning to revise substantially its current approach to civil society engagement, including by adopting a new policy framework for this.
  • Consideration should be given to creating a new, dedicated structure within the LAS to lead on this process, in an attempt to build trust with CSOs and to overcome previous tensions.
  1. Access to Information

Ensuring access to information is key to building trust and to facilitating real engagement. The LAS should practise far greater levels of openness than in the past. Over time, it should adopt a dedicated information disclosure policy. In the meantime, it should do the following:

  • Publish, sufficiently in advance, the agendas of key meetings along with key background documents relating to matters that are placed on the agenda, subject only to legitimate grounds for secrecy.
  • Respond to requests for information, including by nominating staff with dedicated responsibilities for doing this.
  1. Short-term Engagement Measures

The LAS should undertake the following measures to improve engagement over the short term, pending the outcome of the consultation:

  • The current observer status system should be transformed into a consultative status approach.
  • The process of obtaining status should be open, streamlined and insulated from political or other irrelevant considerations, so that status is given to any organisation which meets the conditions for this.
  • To the extent possible, the grant of status should apply directly to a range of LAS bodies, particularly those dealing with human rights and economic and social development.
  • Status should give the holder a broad range of engagement rights, and not merely the right to attend meetings and listen to official actors.
  • A number of engagement options beyond the status system should be put in place, such as the ability to apply on an ad hoc basis to attend a particular meeting or to work with the LAS to implement projects or policies.
  • Financing and other forms of support for engagement (such as training) should be made available.

This information is available in French and Arabic at:Workshop on Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States [French], Workshop on Civil Society Engagement at the League of Arab States [Arabic].

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

Roula Mikhael
Executive Director
Maharat Foundation
Email: roula.mikhael@maharatfoundation.org
+961 3 612 413
http://www.maharatfoundation.org

Mousa Rimwa
General Director
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
Email: m.rimawi@madacenter.org
+970 22976519
http://www.madacenter.org

Fouad Zirari
Staff Coordinator
Transparency Maroc
Email: fouadzirari@gmail.com
+212 06 61 09 61 68
http://transparencymaroc.ma/TM/

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OGP: Submission on Canada’s Fourth Open Government Partnership Action Plan

The government of Canada is currently preparing its fourth Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has contributed a Submission to Ideas Discussion for Canada’s Action Plan on Open Government 2018–20. CLD has provided comments on all of Canada’s previous OGP action plans. This time, unlike in the past, we are focusing on only one issue, namely the overriding need to reform Canada’s Access to Information Act.

Unfortunately, despite the introduction of Bill C-58, which aims to reform the Access to Information Act, very little will change”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Only one of CLD’s priorities for reform of the Act was addressed in Bill C-58, so we still need the government to commit to a proper process of reform.

In its third OGP Action Plan, the government committed to a quick round of initial reforms, followed by “a full review of the Access to Information Act by no later than 2018.” The quick round of reforms took the form of Bill C-58, first tabled in Parliament on 19 June 2017. The Bill was roundly criticised not only by CLD but also by almost all independent stakeholders, including the Information Commission of Canada, for failing to address the many serious shortcomings in the Act. CLD’s analysis shows that Bill C-58 would raise Canada’s dismal score on the RTI Rating by only two points. It is also becoming clear that the third Action Plan’s commitment to conduct a full review of the Act by the end of 2018 will not be achieved.

In its submission, CLD is calling on the government to commit to conducting a full review of the Act and to tabling a bill to amend the Act in Parliament no later than mid-2019. If you agree, please support our call on the government website hosting these submissions here: https://open.canada.ca/en/node/1089.

Our full submission is available at: Submission on Canada’s Fourth Open Government Partnership Action Plan.

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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AIIB: Comments on Draft Policy on Public Information

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) published a Draft Policy on Public Information in January 2018. According to Comments by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and Bank Information Center (BIC), the draft Policy is a good start but far more is needed if it is to serve as a stable, effective mechanism for promoting transparency and access to information at the Bank.

We welcome the fact that the draft Policy starts from a presumption of maximum disclosure”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “But this is undermined in practice by a vague and highly discretionary regime of exceptions, very few set procedures for the making and processing of requests and an unclear and very limited system of appeals.

The draft Policy does incorporate a number of civil society recommendations, including an emphasis on accountability to stakeholders and an override of exceptions where this is mandated by a legitimate interest”, said Elizabeth Summers, Infrastructure Policy Manager, Bank Information Center. “However, among other problems, the Policy should aim to harmonise standards for openness across all of AIIB’s operations and include a list of documents that will be disclosed on a proactive basis.

The CLD/BIC Comments are available here: Comments on the Draft Policy on Public Information of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, while notice of the consultation and draft Policy are available at: https://www.aiib.org/en/policies-strategies/operational-policies/public-consultation/index.html.

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

Elizabeth Summers
Infrastructure Policy Manager
Bank Information Center
Email: esummers@bankinformationcenter.org
+1 (202) 624-0622
www.bankinformationcenter.org

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Mexico: Visit of Sri Lankan and Indian Information Commissioners

Information Commissioners from Sri Lanka and India undertook a mission to Mexico’s National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Personal Data Protection (INAI), the oversight body in that country, last week to exchange best practices and experiences regarding oversight of the right to information. During the technical visit, on 7-8 March 2018, they met with different local actors both within INAI and externally, while on 9 March 2018 they participated in a public workshop. The visit was organised by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) with the support of The Social Architects in Sri Lanka, and a former Information Commissioner of Canada also participated.

 “The rich exchanges that took place during this visit will hopefully contribute to the strengthening of each participating commission’s work,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “This visit demonstrates the benefits of South-South knowledge exchanges to building capacity to overcome right to information challenges.”

During the technical visit, INAI showcased information about its insitutional arrangements and practices. Representatives of civil society and regulated entities in Mexico also shared their persepectives regarding the implementation of  the right to information. During the workshop, titled Information Oversight Bodies in North America and South Asia: An Exchange of Views, participants discussed the systemic strengths and weaknesses relating to oversight of to information in each of their countries and shared ideas about how to create truly open public administrations or transparency by design.

For further information, please contact:
Portia Karegeya
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: portia@law-democracy.org
+1 4243258650
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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British Columbia: Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) Reform Consultations

The Centre for Law and Democracy issued a letter to British Columbia’s Minister of Citizens’ Service, Jinny Sims, copied to the Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan, commending their announcement that consultations will be planned to discuss amending the British Colombia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) from 26 February to 9 April 2018.  CLD urged that the consultation be followed promptly with concrete law reform proposals, and that the practice of posting online publicly the texts of access to information requests even before they have been responded to be stopped in order to avoid having a chilling effect on certain types of uses of FIPPA, in particular for investigative journalism. The letter is reproduced below and can be accessed here.

 

Honourable Jinny Sims
Minister of Citizens’ Services
PO Box 9068
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC
V8W 9E2

CC:
Honourable John Horgan
Premier of British Columbia
PO Box 9041
Stn Prov Govt
Victoria, BC
V8W 9E1

28 February 2018

Dear Minister:

We are writing to commend you for announcing, on 26 February 2018, that you are planning to host consultations on amending the British Columbia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), running from that date until 9 April.

CLD believes that it is high time to amend the FIPPA and that these consultations are, therefore, very timely. According to our assessment, FIPPA earns only 97 points out of a possible 150 on the RTI Rating (see https://www.law-democracy.org/live/global-rti-rating/canadian-rti-rating/). This puts it in second place in Canada, down from first place following the 2015 reforms in Newfoundland which vaulted that province into top position nationally. But British Columbia only ranks 37th place when compared to other countries around the world, just behind Russia. Major reforms are clearly needed.

Law reform, especially on public policy issues, should always be the subject of consultation. But these issues have been studied and discussed for literally decades and we know – and experts largely agree on – what needs to be done. This is true across Canada as well as specifically in British Columbia, where public consultations by a Special Committee of the Legislative Assembly in the fall of 2015, to which CLD contributed (see our submission), led to a comprehensive report in May 2016 containing 39 concrete recommendations for reform.

The urgency of this matter is informed not only by the facts that reforms are long overdue and that extensive consultations on this matter have already been held. Moving forward promptly with these reforms can help avoid a situation we have witnessed all too often in Canada, namely that pledges to reform access to information laws fall by the wayside or get substantially watered down if they are not implemented early in the mandate of a new government.

We therefore urge you to follow consultations promptly with concrete law reform proposals. CLD will support this process by providing inputs into the process. We hope that British Columbia can once again claim top position in Canada regarding access to information, a key issue for democratic engagement.

Finally, we understand that the practice of posting online publicly the texts of access to information requests even before they have been responded to, which was established by the previous government, remains in place. This practice has been widely criticised and, for fairly obvious reasons, exerts a chilling effect on certain types of uses of FIPPA, in particular for investigative journalism. Ending this practice, which is rare if not unknown not only across Canada but also around the world, requires neither consultation nor legislative action. We urge you to bring it to an end as soon as possible.

Yours truly,
Toby Mendel
Executive Director

For further information please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
toby@law-democracy.org
902-431-3688

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