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Inter-American Development Bank: Analysis of the Proposed Access to Information Policy

5 December 2022.

Today, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is releasing Inter-American Development Bank: Analysis of the Proposal for the New Access to Information Policy. The Analysis welcomes a number of improvements in the new Proposal, particularly in terms of tightening up the regime of exceptions by making most exceptions harm tested and subject to the public interest override. At the same time, the Analysis points to a number of areas where the Proposal could still be further improved.

“After a period of improvements in the information policies of the international financial institutions until around 2010, when the current IDB policy was adopted, we have not seen much progress for a while,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “With this Proposal, the IDB is making a commitment to move forward and we encourage it to take full advantage of this opportunity and really improve its access to information policy.”

This Analysis was prepared in response to a call for feedback on the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Proposal for the new Access to Information Policy, which would replace the current Policy. It notes that the IDB’s Proposal represents a strong step in the right direction towards enhanced transparency. In addition to the advances noted above, the Proposal eliminates the “negative override”, which currently gives the IDB broad discretion to keep information secret. It also removes or narrows several problematic exceptions, creates a strong “harm test” and sets out clear procedures for requesting information from the Bank.

However, the Analysis also makes several recommendations for further strengthening the Proposal, including the following:

    • The prohibition on anonymous requests should be removed.
    • The policy should contain an overall time limit on extensions of the deadline for responding to requests.
    • The positive override should apply whenever the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm to the protected interest, be mandatory in nature and apply at all stages of decisions on requests, including the initial decision.
    • The policy should make it clear that third parties do not have a veto over disclosure and establish clear procedures for consulting with third parties.
    • The policy framework for proactive disclosure should be strengthened.

The Analysis 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

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Report on Progress Towards Sustainable Development Goal 16

17 November 2022.

Today, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), in collaboration with a number of other civil society organisations that make up the Sustainable Development Goal 16 Data Initiative, is launching a report on progress towards achieving SDG 16, SDG 16 Data Initiative Report 2022: Are we on track to meeting the 2030 agenda? This is timely given that we are now approaching the half-way point of the SDGs. Based on the extensive collection of high-quality non-official SDG data by participating groups, the report concludes: “[T]he non-official data relied upon show stagnation, backsliding or only very limited progress which cannot possibly be said to represent a halfway point towards substantial progress, which is where the world should be at this point.”

“All of the SDGs are important, but SDG 16 – focusing on peaceful and inclusive societies, access to justice and effective, accountable institutions – is a cross-cutting goal in the sense that sustainable progress towards all other goals depend on it,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The evidence shows that progress on Goal 16 is nowhere near what it should be at the half-way point, a matter of very serious concern.”

The report contains six chapters looking at seven of the ten SDG 16 targets. CLD’s Toby Mendel co-authored Chapter 2, on SDG Target 16.10 (access to information and protection of fundamental freedoms) and authored the final Chapter 6: Nearly halfway: but where are we? As regards the first, in terms of access to information, the focus of the CLD part of the chapter, while some progress has been made in terms of adopting access to information laws, too many countries have still not done so and the average strength of those laws remains well below its 2010 peak. The evidence also suggests that progress on implementation is very weak and indeed backsliding in many countries.

The final chapter provides an overview of progress across all seven targets. With the exception of intentional homicides and conflict-related deaths (the indicators for Target 16.1), progress on all of the targets surveyed was limited or non-existent. As such, the chance of achieving significant progress on SDG 16 by 2030, the objective set by the UN for all SDGs, seems nigh on impossible.

The Report 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: Mapping Democratic Framework for Free Expression

3 November 2022.

CLD has today released an Outline of the key elements that should be contained in any democratic legal framework which governs freedom of expression. The goal is to provide guidance to civil society and other interested stakeholders in Myanmar on how to create a framework which is consistent with international standards.

“The 2021 coup d’état heralded in a marked deterioration in respect for human rights in Myanmar,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Despite that, many stakeholders are still committed to working towards a democratic future for Myanmar and we hope that this Outline will prove a valuable resource for them both to evaluate the current legal framework and to provide a sort of mapping of what a rights-compliant legal framework might look like.”

The Outline begins with a one-page table providing an overview of the rules presented in the Outline and then goes on to describe international standards on criminal and civil content rules, with a focus on hate speech, national security/public order, obscenity, protection of the judiciary, blasphemy, false news, defamation, privacy, and the right to information. It then turns to international standards on media regulation, highlighting the importance of ensuring the independence of regulatory bodies and promoting media diversity, and detailing how different rules are appropriate for different types of media, such as print media, private broadcasters, public broadcasters and online communications.

The Outline is available in English here and in Burmese here.

 

For further information, please contact:

Raphael Vagliano
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: raphael@law-democracy.org
+1 514-506-0948
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Azerbaijan: Analysis of Law on Media

1 November 2022.

Azerbaijan adopted a new Law on Media in early 2022 which seeks to provide a comprehensive framework for media regulation. The Centre for Law and Democracy is today launching its Analysis of the new law. Despite some positive elements, the Media Law does not bring a forward-looking approach to regulating online media or modern broadcasting, fails to insulate regulatory powers from the government and imposes far too many constraints, including content restrictions, on different media sectors.

“Azerbaijan has been achieving low scores in the area of media freedom for some time,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Unfortunately, this new Media Law will neither improve those scores nor create a freer or more diverse environment for the media.”

Some of the more serious problems with the Media Law are as follows:

    • It is far too broad in scope, especially in its definition of online media, although it also takes a traditional, narrow approach to defining who is a journalist.
    • It imposes a broad range of restrictions on the content media outlets may disseminate, most of which are either illegitimate entirely or overly broad and vague.
    • It creates a new Audiovisual Council which is proclaimed as an independent body, but it then fails at a practical level to ensure its independence.
    • It sets out numerous unnecessarily restrictive rules for all media outlets in areas such as logos, copyright, secret recording techniques, founders and foreign funding.
    • It imposes overly broad licensing and other requirements on broadcasters and yet fails to recognise community broadcasting or use licensing to promote diversity.
    • Print and online media have to go through a complex process to start up, and submit 18 different types of information, instead of benefitting from a simple registration system.
    • Strict conditions are placed on the recognition of journalists including having higher education, working for a registered media and not having been convicted of a crime.
    • It envisages only suspension and termination as sanctions, even for potentially very mild breaches of the rules.

We call on the Azerbaijani authorities to substantially revise the Media Law so as to bring it more fully into line with international standards.

Our Analysis 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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Model Training Materials: Introduction to Freedom of Expression

5 October 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing a new document, Model Training Materials: Overview of Freedom of Expression under International Law. These training materials are designed as a resource for networks of media lawyers and other organisations which are working to build the capacity of lawyers to use international human rights standards, especially at the domestic level. The target audience includes both lawyers who are new to the field of media law and lawyers who, even if they are experts on national media law, are interested in learning more about international human rights standards.

“These training materials are designed to help lawyers better integrate international human rights law into their work,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “Lawyers can refer to these standards when campaigning for law reform, engaging in strategic litigation, or providing technical expertise on new laws or regulations. Even where human rights law is not directly legally binding, it can provide helpful guidance on challenging or ambiguous areas of media law.”

The Materials consist of: 1) a Background Reading document describing in some detail the core standards; 2) sample exercises that can be used as part of training programmes; 3) discussion questions, again for training; and 4) sample agendas for a 1.5 hour or one-half-day workshop based on the materials.

This set of Model Training Materials is part of CLD’s Promoting the Establishment of Networks of Media Lawyers Globally project, currently in its second phase. This work is funded by the Global Media Defence Fund managed by UNESCO. The project provides resources and support to lawyers seeking to establish national level media lawyers’ networks. To learn more, see our Brochure describing the project and our Media Lawyers’ Networks project information page.

If you are potentially interested in establishing a media lawyers’ network in your own country, please contact us. We can provide various forms of support to take this idea forward. Please also stay tuned for announcements about training workshops by CLD.

The Model Training Materials are available at Model Training Materials: Overview of Freedom of Expression under International Law

For further information about the project and upcoming training workshops 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

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Happy Right to Know Day

28 September 2022. 

Today, 28 September 2022, is the 20th anniversary of International Right to Know Day, recognised formally by the United Nations as International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). First recognised in 2002 by a group of civil society organisations focusing on the right to access information held by public authorities, or the right to information (RTI), the day was formally recognised by UNESCO in 2015 and then by the United Nations General Assembly as a formal UN day in 2019. It is a day to reflect on the importance of this key human right, to celebrate the many advances that have been made in terms of respecting this right and to discuss the many challenges that still lie ahead.

“It is a great pleasure to wish everyone a happy right to know day, on the 20th anniversary of this important day, and to look back on the major achievements over the last 20 years,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “At the same time, even as the number of countries which have laws recognising and protecting this right continues to grow steadily, nearly one-third of all countries still lack legislation while many more countries face serious implementation challenges.”

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is undertaking or participating in a number of events/activities this year:

    • Toby Mendel is participating in the main in-person UNESCO event for this day, taking place in Tashkent, Uzbekistan (see the programme here). The event is also being streamed live at the following link.
    • CLD is hosting a panel discussion on Improving Access to Information for Nova Scotians in Halifax, Canada, in collaboration with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for Nova Scotia. More details are available on the poster for the event, which can be viewed here.
    • We have launched a review of the constitutional guarantees of this right for all countries on the RTI Rating website, here (previously, we had just assessed the constitutional guarantees of countries that had RTI laws).
    • We have expanded the number of ratings of subnational laws included on the International and Subnational page of the RTI Rating, here, by adding ratings CLD completed for Bermuda, Nova Scotia and Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province that were previously accessible only on CLD’s main website. Other subnational ratings will be added in the coming weeks.

We hope that these events and resources will help contribute to greater realisation globally of the right to information.

Happy Right to Know Day!!

For further information, please contact:

Raphael Vagliano
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: raphael@law-democracy.org
+1 (514) 506-0948
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Myanmar: Note on Police Force Law

19 September 2022.

On 25 March 2022, the military regime ruling Myanmar enacted the Myanmar Police Force Law, which replaced several laws previously governing Myanmar’s police forces. The new Law introduced structural changes to Myanmar’s police forces which raise concerns about further militarisation of the police in Myanmar, already a problem. It also introduces a raft of new criminal restrictions, including many that directly restrict freedom of expression and assembly, as well as giving the police significantly expanded powers that again raise serious freedom of expression and assembly concerns. These rules are analysed in detail in a Note on Myanmar Police Force Law released today by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD).

“The military regime has once again shown its disregard for Myanmar’s obligations under international human rights law, including by introducing sweeping provisions which criminalise peaceful expression and assembly,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The new Myanmar Police Force Law is part of a longer-term effort by the regime to exert control over those living in Myanmar, including through quasi-military powers where these are deemed to be useful.”

Some of the key points made about the Myanmar Police Force Law in the Note are:

    • It contains unjustifiable, sweeping provisions criminalising a failure to provide “valid” reasons for being in various otherwise innocuous locations.
    • It contains disproportionate and vague nuisance provisions, as well as illegitimate restrictions on fundraising and advertising.
    • It criminalises a wide range of actions in the face of police behaviour that go well beyond what is necessary to prevent bystanders from interfering with police actions.
    • The Law grants significantly overbroad powers to the police while also illegitimately limiting access to remedies against police abuses.

The police laws that the Myanmar Police Force Law replaced were already out of date and contained several provisions that were inconsistent with international standards. Thus, while there was a genuine need to replace this legislation, the Myanmar Police Force Law is not the solution and should be repealed. At such time as democracy returns to Myanmar, a new policing law should be enacted following a proper consultative process involving all interested stakeholders.

CLD’s Note on the Myanmar Police Force Law can be found in English here and in Burmese here.

An English translation of the Law can be found here.

For further information, please contact:

Raphael Vagliano
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: raphael@law-democracy.org
+1 (514) 506-0948
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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UNESCO and Centre for Law and Democracy Launch Free Online Course on Access to Information Laws and Policies

10 August 2022.

UNESCO and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) are today launching the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Access to Information Laws and Policies and their Implementation, looking at how to access information held by public authorities. This brand-new course on access to information is aimed at both requesters (demand-side) and information providers (supply-side) and covers a wide range of both conceptual and practical issues relating to Access to Information (ATI).

The right to information is an important human right and a democratic need. When citizens exercise their right to access public information they are able to make reasoned choices about their daily lives. In order to guarantee the right to know, it should be protected by law and these laws need to be implemented.

UNESCO and the Centre for Law and Democracy developed this self-paced online course on access to information Laws and Policies and how to implement them. When completing the 8-module course, which should take about six hours, professionals, institutions, governments and citizens can better work together to fulfil their aspiration of building the fair and just knowledge society of tomorrow. Upon finishing the course, participants will also receive a formal certification of completion.

“After completing this course, participants should have a strong understanding of all of the key access to information concepts and tools” said Toby Mendel, Centre for Law and Democracy’s Executive Director. “Designed to be engaging for both seasoned professionals and newcomers to the issue, this course incorporates a wide range of learning tools and approaches”.

The eight modules cover international standards on access to information, development and benefits of access to information, principles of access to information legislation, proactive disclosure, reactive disclosure, exceptions, oversight and implementation of access to information laws. To access the course please go to the dedicated website.

According to UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, Tawfik Jelassi, “the course is an important step in building the capacity of a range of stakeholders to ensure public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”.

Access to Information is an essential tool to strengthen citizen trust and participation. It also gives citizens the means to access justice to claim what is rightfully theirs. This training initiative is part of UNESCO’s initiatives to promote the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 16 on Access to Information. The General Assembly of the United Nations appointed UNESCO in September 2015 as the custodian UN agency for global monitoring of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator 16.10.2: the “number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information”.

The initiative is supported by the Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists and the International Programme for the Development of Communication.

****

Link to the online course on Access to Information.

 

Press Contact

Toby Mendel                                    Jaco Du Toit
Executive Director                            Chief of Universal Access to Information Section
Centre for Law and Democracy       Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO
toby@law-democracy.org               j.dutoit@unesco.org
+1 902 431-3686                             +33 145681006

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Maldives: Amend Provision in the Evidence Act that Compels Journalists to Reveal Sources

25 July 2022.

The undersigned 10 organizations call on the government of Maldives to repeal or amend the deeply problematic provision in the Evidence Act (Act No. 11/2022) that compels journalists to reveal sources on court orders and to ensure the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and the press in line with international human rights law.

Article 136 of the new law uses vague and overbroad terms such as “acts of terrorism” and “national security related crimes” when identifying instances where journalists can be compelled to disclose their sources. These overly broad categories, which are not defined, are deeply concerning due to the Maldives’ long history of stifling peaceful dissent and muzzling press freedom using “acts of terrorism” and “national security related crimes” as an excuse to arbitrarily arrest, jail and even torture political dissidents, journalists, and human rights defenders and activists.

The Act also mandates courts to decide, on a balance of probabilities, whether to order source disclosure. This clearly fails to respect international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression, which rely on a three-part test requiring, among other things, any restriction to be “necessary”.

Journalists who refuse to disclose a source, after being ordered to do so by the court, can be found in contempt, and face up to three months in jail or be fined.

The Maldivian parliament ignored a comprehensive document listing concerns and recommendations which was provided to the parliament by the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) and the Maldives Media Council (MMC). The parliament also ignored calls from Transparency Maldives, International Federation of Journalists, Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists and other organizations that urged the authorities to uphold their international human rights obligations and remove provisions that put impermissible restrictions on the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and press freedom.

The signatories of this statement also note that President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ignored a petition by 158 Maldivian journalists calling on him to refuse to sign the bill into law.

The current provisions – which will become enforceable within six months – are a grave threat to press freedom and freedom of expression in the Maldives. It will have a dramatic impact on the work of journalists including the loss of access to important sources who might refuse to talk to journalists out of fear of being exposed in a court of law. This will have a chilling effect on the work of journalists investigating and reporting on human rights violations, corruption, and abuse of power by state authorities.

We call on the authorities to repeal or amend the provision of the Evidence Act in line with international human rights law and standards and in consultation with international and local experts including journalists, editors, and human rights activists, before it comes into force.

This is an opportunity for the Maldivian government and parliament to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and rule of law by ensuring that the progress made with regard to promotion and protection of freedom of expression and press freedom in the Maldives is not reversed.

Amnesty International
Centre for Law and Democracy
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Committee to Protect Journalists
Human Rights Watch
International Federation of Journalists
Maldives Journalist Association
Maldives Editors Guild
Reporters Without Borders
Transparency Maldives

For further information, please contact:

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

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Invitation: Webinar on Creating a Media Lawyers’ Network

14 July 2022.

You are invited to our webinar on 20 July, Introduction to Creating a Media Lawyers’ Network. This webinar provides a general introduction to the concept of a media lawyers’ network, steps which can be taken to establish one and resources developed by CLD to support the formation of such networks. An agenda for the webinar is available here

Register at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_bWdW96JPRdmfBcb9sj0VvA and Learn more about our project on creating media lawyers’ networks at https://www.law-democracy.org/live/projects/media-lawyers-networks/.

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Submission on Freedom of Expression in Times of Armed Conflict

13 July 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has prepared a Submission in response to a call for inputs on challenges to freedom of expression in times of armed conflict and other disturbances by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.

The importance of freedom of expression is perhaps greater during armed conflicts than ever, and yet States often try to take advantage of the situation to further limit this right ”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “This Submission tries to set out some of the key freedom of expression principles that apply during armed conflicts”.

CLD’s Submissions focus on the following areas:

    • The prohibition on propaganda for war.
    • Legal protections for journalists working in conflict zones.
    • Emergency derogations from freedom of expression obligations.
    • The responsibilities of social media companies during armed conflict in relation to:
      • Measures, such as content moderation and deprioritisation, for harmful speech.
      • Decisions to deplatform.
      • Transparency issues.

In addition to making a number of direct recommendations for States and social media platforms, CLD’s Submission lists several areas where further exploration by the Special Rapporteur would be useful, given the novelty of this issue.

The Submission is available here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Guide on Using International Law on Freedom of Expression in Domestic Courts

 7 July 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing A Guide on Using International Freedom of Expression Norms in Domestic Courts. This short but focused Guide aims to serve as a resource for lawyers seeking to use international legal standards relating to freedom of expression to enhance their domestic litigation.

“In many countries, international law can be invoked directly before national courts” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “Even where this is not the case, international law can provide a rich source of inspiration for interpreting domestic constitutional protections for freedom of expression and offer important lessons for resolving thorny freedom of expression issues.”

This Guide is part of CLD’s Promoting the Establishment of Networks of Media Lawyers Globally project, funded by the Global Media Defence Fund run by UNESCO and currently in its second phase. The project provides resources and support for lawyers seeking to establish national level media lawyers’ networks. To learn more, see our Brochure describing the project and our Media Lawyers’ Networks project information page.

We also invite lawyers and others who are interested in learning more about how to create a national media lawyers’ network to join our webinar on the topic, Introduction to Creating a Media Lawyers’ Network, on 20 July 2022 at 14:00 CET (Central European Time). You can register for this webinar here.

The Guide is available in English, Spanish and French.

For further information about the project and upcoming webinar, 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

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Guide for Journalists on Documenting International Crimes

5 July 2022 – for immediate release

The Centre for Law and Democracy and News Media Europe are thrilled to launch the Guide for Journalists on How to Document International Crimes, with concrete recommendations for journalists and editors on how to capture information about international crimes so that it may be admitted as evidence in court. News professionals are often the first observers to arrive at international crime scenes and may be in a position to document them at an early stage, which is invaluable since evidence often degrades with time.

This Guide aims to help journalists take simple steps to increase the reliability of the information they collect, thereby enhancing the chance that a court will accept it as evidence”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD.

Iacob Gammeltoft, Policy Manager at News Media Europe, added: “In these extraordinary times, this resource is designed to support journalists and news organisations investigating international crimes and to help them understand what kind of impact they can have.”

The role of news professionals is first and foremost to inform the public, and not to collect and analyse evidence on behalf of public authorities. At the same time, news organisations are expressing a growing interest in understanding the requirements for information to be admissible as evidence in court, so as to help to hold criminal actors to account.

The Guide provides advice about several legal issues in a way that is accessible to non-legal experts, including: 

    • Privileges regarding the protection of confidential sources and not having to testify
    • What constitutes an international crime
    • Different types of evidence and basic rules regarding admissibility of evidence
    • How to gather information in a way that promotes its legal reliability and tips on doing this
    • Interviewing victims and witnesses

The Guide also includes a section on Resources with links to various written documents, apps and civil society organisations which can provide support.

The Guide is available in English here, Burmese here, Ukrainian here and Russian here

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel                                                   Iacob Gammeltoft
Executive Director                                           Policy Manager
Centre for Law and Democracy                      News Media Europe
toby@law-democracy.org                               iacob.gammeltoft@newsmediaeurope.eu
+1 902 431-3688                                            +32(0)472 536703
www.law-democracy.org                                 www.newsmediaeurope.eu
twitter: @law_democracy

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Myanmar: Summary of the Right to a Public Trial

30 May 2022.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has today published a briefing note, in English and Burmese, on the right to a public trial in response to media reports on closed judicial proceedings in Myanmar’s prisons. The military regime running Myanmar has reportedly established courts inside various prisons, including Insein Prison, to try certain cases deemed by the regime to be politically sensitive. While publicly available information is limited, in addition to the public being prevented from witnessing these cases, legal counsel have reportedly faced barriers representing their clients, including difficulties obtaining sufficient information on the proceedings and being subjected to threats and intimidation.

The right to a public trial allows for scrutiny of judicial proceedings and supports public confidence in the administration of justice”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The closure of criminal trials to the public should be ordered only in highly exceptional circumstances, based on strong justification, which does not appear to be the case with most of the secret trials in Myanmar.

The briefing note sets out the limited circumstances in which criminal trials may be closed to the public including, in the context of national security, to protect the identity of witnesses who may be at risk or to protect the confidentiality of highly sensitive national security information, while noting that in both cases alternative measures for protecting these interests should be considered. It also indicates that where criminal trials are held in unconventional venues, such as prisons, authorities should make appropriate arrangements to facilitate public access to them.

The briefing note is available in English and Burmese.

For further information, please contact:

Raphael Vagliano
Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: raphael@law-democracy.org
Phone: (+1) 514-506-0948
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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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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