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

10 November 2021.

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

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

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

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

About the Organisation

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

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

Essential Qualifications

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

Preferred Qualifications

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

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

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

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

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

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Myanmar: Analysis of Amendments to the Broadcasting Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 November 2021. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information, please contact:

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

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British Columbia: Proposed Amendments Significantly Weaken Access to Information Legislation

27 October 2021.

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

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

The three areas where points would be lost are:

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

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

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

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

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

For further information, please contact:

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

 

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Maldives: Launch of Report on Media Environment

23 October 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information, please contact:

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

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2021 Joint Declaration on Politicians and Freedom of Expression

20 October 2021.

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

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

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

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

The 2021 Joint Declaration is available in the following languages:

Arabic
English
French
Spanish
Portuguese

For further information, please contact:

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

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Happy International Right to Know Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information, please contact:

 

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

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Canada: Proposals for Harmful Content Online Need More Human Rights Safeguards

 27 September 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing a Submission to the official consultation on the Government of Canada’s proposals to address harmful content online. The proposals would impose several obligations on online platforms, including to monitor content proactively, report harmful content to law enforcement bodies and create procedures for users to flag content for review. The proposals would also create several new independent regulatory bodies tasked with enforcement of the abovementioned obligations and hearing appeals about content moderation.

The Canadian proposals to address harmful content online are a mixed bag in terms of compliance with international human rights,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “The creation of independent oversight bodies is positive, but requiring platforms to monitor content is very problematical while other features need additional human rights safeguards.”

CLD’s Submission welcomes the positive aspects of the proposals, including the decoupling of online platforms’ content moderation decisions from liability, increased reporting obligations for platforms that would increase transparency, including on how harmful content is monetised, and the independence of the new regulatory bodies.

However, several aspects of the proposals are problematic from a human rights standpoint and should either be removed or adjusted, including:

    • Lack of clarity as to scope, which appears to cover some private communications.
    • A 24-hour deadline for companies to take measures against harmful content, which we recommend generally be extended to 72 hours.
    • An ill-defined obligation for companies to monitor and takedown harmful content proactively.
    • An obligation for companies to report content proactively to law enforcement bodies, which requires them to decide whether content is criminal.
    • A vague definition of “terrorist content” which we recommend be limited to “content that incites terrorist activities” and linked to clear Criminal Code definitions.
    • Failure to put in place sufficient safeguards for website blocking, an extreme practice, so as to ensure that blocking is proportionate and that innocent content is not blocked, and to include publicity requirements regarding blocked sites.

The Submission can be found here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Supporting the Establishment of Networks of Media Lawyers in Kazakhstan, UNESCO Almaty and CLD Host a Workshop

15 September 2021.

Today UNESCO Almaty, in partnership with the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), hosted a virtual Workshop on Creating a Media Lawyers’ Network in Kazakhstan to bring legal professionals together to deepen their understanding of and to advocate for media freedom and freedom of expression.

Supported by the Global Media Defence Fund and the Eurasian Digital Foundation, the Workshop discussed the importance and benefits of forming national networks of lawyers dedicated to media defence work and promoting freedom of expression. It provided a general introduction to the concept of a media lawyers’ network and the steps needed to establish one, along with a specific discussion about possible next steps in Kazakhstan. Over 30 participants from Kazakhstan attended the discussion representing media, media lawyers, civil activists, academia and international organizations.

Referring to UNESCO’s work to overview international and regional legal frameworks underpinning the right to freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists, Krista Pikkat, UNESCO Representative in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Director of the UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office, noted that “creating a network of media lawyers will help enhance co-operation with judicial, law enforcement and academic law institutions in overcoming knowledge or justice deficiencies in the creation, interpretation, application and enforcement of laws related to freedom of expression, press freedom and the safety of journalists.”

Such networks bring together legal professionals who seek to protect media freedom and freedom of expression. They can serve as forums for professional collaboration, knowledge sharing, advocacy and capacity building.

Speaking at the webinar, Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy noted: “Media lawyers’ networks can be crucial forums for engaging lawyers in advocating for media law freedom, building media law as a specialisation, exchanging knowledge and supporting strategic litigation.”

CLD is running the project, Promoting the Establishment of Networks of Media Lawyers Globally. The goal is to help lawyers working on freedom of expression and media law issues to create formal professional media lawyers’ networks at the national level. Networks of that sort can be invaluable in bolstering legal protection for media freedom, building members’ expertise and collaborating to provide legal defence to journalists and media.

For a Russian version of this press release, click here

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Canada: Submission to Access to Information Act Review

17 August 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) are today releasing their joint Submission to the formal review of Canada’s federal Access to Information Act (ATIA), launched in June 2020. Many of the recommendations for change raised in the Submission have featured in previous submissions by CLD, the BCCLA and various other stakeholders, demonstrating the need for the federal government to abandon its piecemeal approach to amending the ATIA in favour of root-and-branch reform.

There is an unfortunate continuity to many of the problems that have plagued the ATIA for decades now,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “This review is an opportunity for the federal government to act in good faith with Canadians and finally engage in far-reaching reform so as to give Canadians the modern accountability mechanism they deserve.”

Although Canada was one of the early countries to adopt a law giving individuals a right to access government documents or right to information (RTI) law, in 1982, the ATIA has not been significantly reformed since then. According to the RTI Rating, CLD’s internationally recognised methodology for assessing the strength of RTI Laws, the federal Canadian law scores 93 out of 150 possible points, placing it in 52nd place out of the 129 countries currently on the RTI Rating, far behind leaders such as Mexico, Sri Lanka and Slovenia.

The joint submission makes several recommendations to reform the ATIA, including:

    • The scope of the ATIA should be expanded to include all executive, legislative and judicial branches of government; constitutional, statutory and oversight bodies; Crown corporations; and any public or private entity, including corporations, which is owned, controlled or substantially funded by a public authority or which performs a statutory or public function.
    • Much stricter limits on extensions of the deadline for responding to a request for information should be imposed, such as a hard cap of 60 days or a requirement to get permission from the Information Commissioner for extensions beyond 30 days.
    • The regime of exceptions should be fundamentally revised, to include the following changes:
      • All class exceptions, which exclude categories of information entirely from the coverage of the Act, should be removed.
      • In case of conflict between the ATIA and a secrecy provision in another law, the rules in the ATIA should prevail.
      • Exceptions should be: narrowly tailored to protect only interests which are legitimate under international law; apply only where disclosure would pose a risk of harm to a protected interest; and not apply where, notwithstanding the risk of harm, the public interest in disclosure outweighs that harm (the public interest override).
      • Exceptions which protect a public interest should cease to apply after a maximum of 20 years (known as a sunset clause).

The Submission can be found here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Nova Scotia, Canada: Party Leaders Fail to Commit on Access to Information Reform

6 August 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing open letters sent last week to the leaders of the three main Nova Scotian political parties, the Liberal Party, Progressive Conservative Association and New Democratic Party, along with the responses of each party (Liberal/PC/NDP). Sent in the middle of an election campaign, the open letters request party leaders to make election promises to conduct a comprehensive review of the local right to information (RTI) act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP) and to make three more specific commitments. All three parties responded in a timely manner to our letters, but all failed to make the promises we asked for, instead repeating vague promises to improve the act that have proven ineffective in the past.

It is regrettable that while all of the party leaders have made statements about the importance of transparency and accountability, none are prepared to make strong and specific commitments to reform the woefully out-of-date Nova Scotian RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “We got the same general commitments two elections ago, when we conducted a similar exercise, and have yet to see any concrete reform of the act; Nova Scotians deserve more.”

Although Nova Scotia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt an RTI law, in 1977, the act has not been significantly reformed since then. According to the RTI Rating, CLD’s internationally recognised methodology for assessing the strength of RTI Laws, the Nova Scotian law scores 85 out of 150 possible points, placing it in 65th place out of the 129 countries currently on the RTI Rating, far behind leaders such as Mexico, Sri Lanka and Slovenia. In 2013, CLD published an Analysis of the FOIPOP Act that includes a comprehensive list of 18 recommendations for reform. Of those 18 recommendations, the open letter calls on leaders to make specific commitments to three, chosen by CLD for their overriding importance to transparency and accountability, as follows:

    • Grant the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Nova Scotia binding order-making power.
    • Ensure that all exceptions are subject to a robust and comprehensive public interest override which requires public bodies to release information whenever the overall public interest is served by this, notwithstanding the exceptions.
    • Ensure that exceptions which protect public interests are subject to a sunset clause of 20 years or less, after which they no longer apply.

CLD is disappointed by the weak responses from party leaders and calls on them now to make more specific and genuine commitments to reform the legislation so as to prove that their statements in favour of accountability are genuine.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Invitation to Webinar on Forming National Media Lawyers’ Networks

30 July 2021.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), with the support of the Global Media Defence Fund run by UNESCO, is running a project designed to support the formation and development of national networks of lawyers dedicated to media defence work and promoting freedom of expression.

“Media lawyers’ networks can be crucial forums for building media law as a specialisation, bolstering legal protection for media freedom, exchanging knowledge and supporting strategic litigation,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “Despite the obvious advantages, such networks exist in relatively few countries. This project aims to change that by raising awareness about their benefits and how to go about creating one.”

CLD will host an open webinar outlining the benefits and activities of media lawyers’ networks, sharing some key resources we have developed to support this work and discussing the steps which need to be taken to establish such a network.  The webinar will be held at:

    • Name: Introduction to Creating a Media Lawyers’ Network: Open Webinar
    • Date: 10 August 2021
    • Time: 13:00 UTC
    • RSVP: Email laura@law-democracy.org to obtain the link for the webinar

A link to the agenda for the workshop is available here.

CLD has developed a number of resources to assist lawyers who are interested in forming a Network. These include a brochure explaining the project, a Background Note on Media Lawyers’ Networks and a Model Constitution to serve as a guiding template for those interested in drafting a constitution for a new network. These resources are available in different languages at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/projects/media-lawyers-networks/.

If you are unable to join the webinar but are interested in this idea, please contact us by email and we will be in touch about possible follow-up opportunities.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
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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Inter-American Court of Human Rights Appearance

15 June 2021. Today, Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), is appearing as an expert witness and presenting a written Statement before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Palacio Urrutia and Others v. Ecuador. The case challenges the conviction of journalist Urrutia and fellow defendants for defamation for a newspaper article in 2011 about then-Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The conviction resulted in sentences of three years’ imprisonment and a civil damages award of USD 30,000,000, as well as an additional damages award of USD 10,000,000 against the defendant newspaper, El Universo.

It is an honour for me to have been asked by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to be its expert on freedom of expression in this case,” said Toby Mendel. “This case gives the Inter-American Court of Human Rights a chance to further its jurisprudence in a number of important freedom of expression issues regarding both civil and criminal defamation law.

Some of the key points Mendel made in his written Statement and will stress orally before the Court today are:

    • The key statements in the article were opinions on matters of public interest which are protected speech and should not attract any sanction in defamation law.
    • Criminal defamation is, per se, a breach of the right to freedom of expression; reputations should be protected through the civil law.
    • As an alternative to the above, imprisonment is never appropriate as a sanction for defamation.
    • The civil damages award in this case was wildly excessive; non-material damages for protection of reputation, as such, should be modest and punitive damages should be applied only in highly exceptional circumstances and, in any case, not extend to the level of damages in this case.

Mendel’s Statement is available in English original and Spanish translation. The session is available on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ Facebook page here and its YouTube channel 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

“the Inter-American Court of Human Rights — in Session” by enaduris is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Mauritius: Proposals to Monitor and Control All Social Media Traffic Very Repressive

12 May 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is releasing two documents analysing, respectively, Mauritius’ Information and Communication Technologies Act 2001 (ICT Act) and recently proposed amendments to that Act. The first is a Note highlighting current human rights problems with the ICT Act, including the lack of independence of media regulators and overbroad content restrictions. The second was submitted in response to the Consultation Paper on Proposed Amendments to the ICT Act for Regulating the Use and Addressing the Abuse and Misuse of Social Media in Mauritius (Consultation Paper), issued by the Mauritian Information and Communication Technologies Authority (ICTA) on 14 April 2021.

The ICT Act already imposes undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and privacy but the new proposals, if implemented, would represent a flagrant violation of these rights for every Mauritian who uses social media,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “Mauritian authorities should abandon these drastic proposals and instead address the underlying human rights problems with the ICT Act.”

The 14 April 2021 proposals would require all social media traffic to and from Mauritius to be routed through a proxy server run by the ICTA, and establish systems to break any encryption provided by social media platforms and conduct official surveillance of all of this traffic. The goal is to enforce existing (very problematical) content restrictions in the ICT Act and to add new responsive measures, including widespread powers to block offending social media pages and content. Implementation would be done by a technical enforcement agency operating under the ICTA, which is not independent of government, and a new content-adjudication agency, which is also unlikely to be independent.

CLD’s submission debunks the misleading justifications provided by the ICTA for these drastic proposals and makes several key recommendations, including to:

    • Abandon these extreme proposals and, instead, focus on working more closely with social media platforms, and building the capacity of the people and institutions of Mauritius to address problems flowing from social media.
    • Ensure that any regulatory bodies which have the power to regulate freedom of expression, whether new or existing, benefit from both formal and structural protections against political and commercial interference.

CLD’s key recommendations for improving the current ICT Act include:

    • Enhance the independence and diversity of the four regulatory and advisory bodies it creates.
    • Amend the licensing scheme which regulates too many services, has vague criteria for the issuance and removal of licences, and authorises intrusive search powers.
    • Remove or substantially amend the numerous vague and overbroad content and other offences which criminalise everyday speech and behaviour, and can result in fines of up to USD25,000 and ten years’ imprisonment.

The submission on the 14 April 2021 Consultation Paper is available here.

The Note that assesses the existing ICT Act can be found here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Myanmar: Analysis of the Military’s Changes to the Penal Code

10 May 2021.

Myanmar’s military took control of the country in a coup on 1 February 2021. Just two weeks later, on 14 February, they introduced important changes to the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which have become the primary legal provisions being used to charge journalists, student leaders, civil servants and others who are opposing the military regime. Today, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is releasing Analysis: Amendments to the Penal Code by the State Administration Council, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the amendments as against international human rights standards. It is accompanied by a shorter document which is designed to provide a quick overview of the scope and impact of the amendments.

“Detention, criminal charges, harassment and violence against peaceful protesters, journalists and activists has become the new normal in Myanmar,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The changes to the Penal Code are an attempt to give legal cover to these actions, but they do not even begin to pass the test of legitimacy from an international human rights standpoint.”

New section 505A prohibits causing fear, spreading false news and agitating crimes against a government employee, all punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The military is now using section 505A essentially as its default for bringing criminal charges against a wide range of persons deemed to pose a challenge to their authority. Other problematical amendments include:

    • Expansions of the scope of high treason and sedition, which make it easier to convict individuals simply for criticising the military (sections 121 and 124A).
    • New sections 124C and 124D which make it a crime to hindering the work of the military or government employees.
    • A new section 505(a), not to be confused with 505A, which makes it a crime to make a statement undermining the morale of military or government employees.
    • Martial law, imposed in some locations since March, allows cases involving these offences to be heard by military tribunals and increases the maximum sentence to death or life imprisonment with hard labour.

The full Analysis is available in English and Burmese.
The summary document is also available in English and Burmese.

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
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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Russia: Letter in Solidarity with Ivan Pavlov

7 May 2021. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is pleased to join more than 100 other organisations and individuals in endorsing a letter in solidarity with Ivan Pavlov, a Russian human rights activist and lawyer who has been criminally charged with disclosing data of a preliminary investigation which has been declared secret. The likely reason for these charges is Pavlov’s role, along with other members of Team 29, which he heads, in defending opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) and campaign offices against criminal accusations of advocating extremism.

These charges against Ivan, who is a lion of the human rights and right to information struggle in Russia, are clearly politically motivated,” said Toby Mendel, CLD’s Executive Director. “They also represent a new development in Russia where, until now, lawyers have largely been able to defend their clients despite crackdowns on the opposition.

Pavlov was detained on Friday, 30 April, and, although he was later ordered to be released by a judge, this was on condition that he not use a telephone or the Internet. Pavlov has been a tireless campaigner against government secrecy and in support of human rights. Just the day before he was charged with making information public, he had accused Russian authorities of abusing secrecy rules in the Navalny case and lodged another legal case to have those materials declared open to the public.

The various measures against Pavlov, including the charges and communications ban, are a manifest breach of his rights to freedom of expression and criminal due process. They represent a broader attack on the rule of law, including respect for the independence of lawyers. CLD calls on democratic States and intergovernmental human rights bodies to take action to defend the rights of Pavlov and all Russians.

The letter with the full list of signatories is available in English original, as well as in Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish translation. 

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

(Image credit: TaisiaSuvorova, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

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Namibia: Access to Information Bill Strong But Reforms Could Make it an African Leader

30 April 2021.

Today, as Namibia hosts the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2021, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) released an Analysis of Namibia’s Access to Information Bill. This Bill, which was tabled in parliament in 2021, would give individuals a right to access information held by government. Overall, the Analysis shows that the Bill is largely in line with international standards but could still be further improved. A quick assessment of the Bill based on CLD’s RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org), which is a methodology for assessing the strength of legal frameworks for the right to information globally, shows that it earns a score of 114 out of a total 150 points. This would place it in 20th position from among the 128 laws currently assessed on the Rating. A few tweaks to the Bill could increase Namibia’s score, placing it among the top ten countries globally, alongside Liberia, the only African country currently in that group.

“Adopting a right to information law has been a matter of debate for a long time in Namibia, so adopting one is long overdue,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “While the Bill is a good start, parliament should introduce a few improvements so that the final law offers rigorous protection for the right to information.”

The Bill has a number of strengths, such as an independent Information Commissioner with extensive powers, broad scope of coverage and a good set of promotional measures to support effective implementation. The Analysis offers comprehensive recommendations on areas for improvement, but some highlights include:

    • No reasons should be required to be provided when making a request for information and more detailed procedures for making requests should be added.
    • The ATI law should trump secrecy provisions in other laws in case of conflict.
    • The current exclusions of key information related to the cabinet and judiciary should be removed.
    • The public interest override should be amended so that it applies whenever the public interest in accessing information is greater than the harm disclosing it would cause.
    • The criminal sanctions for accessing exempt information should either be removed entirely or be limited in scope to officials.

CLD’s Analysis is available at: Analysis of Namibia’s Access to Information Bill

For further information, please contact:

Laura Notess
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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China: Analysis of Hong Kong National Security Law

25 April 2021.


The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is today releasing an Analysis of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (referred to informally as the national security law for Hong Kong). The law has become notorious for its broad restrictions on commonplace expressive activity and the extensive control it gives mainland China over criminal prosecutions in Hong Kong, as well as its frequent use, including against leading media and pro-democracy personalities, such as Jimmy Lai. The CLD Analysis, which was produced with support from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), outlines the precise legal means used in the law to achieve those repressive aims.

“It is a supreme irony that this law, which was introduced in response to the protests in Hong Kong against threats to introduce legislation to allow criminal suspects to be extradited from Hong Kong to China, not only allows such extraditions but goes so much further, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “With this legislation China has affirmed, comprehensively, its legal and practical control over freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”

The law creates four new broadly worded offences, namely secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country. All four offences are problematical. For example the offence of terrorist activities criminalises the vague notion of “advocating for” terrorism. But collusion with a foreign country is the most flexible, covering broad notions which have no place in the criminal law, such as disrupting the formulation of laws, engaging in hostile activities against Hong Kong or China and provoking hatred against government.

Some of the key other problematical measures in the law include the following:

    • It reverses the normal presumption in favour of bail, which will be granted only if judges have sufficient evidence that the accused will not endanger national security.
    • It provides for cases about national security to be tried by judges who are hand picked on one-year terms by the Chief Executive.
    • It creates a high-level oversight Committee which is “under the supervision of and accountable to the Central People’s Government”.
    • It also creates a Hong Kong office of China’s security services, essentially a Hong Kong outpost for their operations, and grants it extensive powers.
    • It allows for cases to be transferred to mainland China’s justice system, including at the discretion of the office mentioned in the previous point.
    • It grants the police broad powers to order the takedown of content, as well as to intercept and conduct surveillance of communications without the need to obtain any judicial authorisation.

The Analysis is available here.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Myanmar: The Right to Protest and to Cover Protests

14 April 2021.

The Centre for Law and Democracy has released a summary, in English and Burmese, on the rights of protesters in Myanmar and of the media workers who cover protests. Widespread protests have broken out across Myanmar in response to the 1 February 2021 military coup d’etat, and the military has responded with arrests, detentions, and violence, sometimes lethal. The summary covers the international human rights standards applicable to protests and provides tips for protesters and journalists on the ground.

The summary is available here in English and Burmese.

For further information, please contact:

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

 

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Hong Kong: Democracy Activist and Publisher Jimmy Lai Under Attack

12 April 2021. 

The Centre for Law and Democracy has published a Note that explains the recent legal troubles faced by Hong Kong publisher and democracy activist Jimmy Lai. Lai is facing reprisals from authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China due to the outspoken newspaper he founded, Apple Daily, and his other activities as a leader in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Several of these charges are under Hong Kong’s colonial-era Public Order Ordinance and the recent mainland China national security law for Hong Kong, both of which have serious failings from an international human rights perspective. 

“CLD is deeply concerned that the Public Order Ordinance and national security law for Hong Kong are being used to target activists such as Jimmy Lai for legitimate expressive activity,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director at CLD. “Laws should never allow for the criminalisation of peaceful protests and publishing legitimate political speech, especially where, as is the case here, they provide for lengthy jail terms.” 

CLD’s Note on Lai is available at: Note on Jimmy Lai.

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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