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COVID-19 Update: Tracking Changes to Right to Information Laws

2 April 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy has added a page to the RTI Rating (containing information about national right to information laws) which tracks the changes that have been made to right to information (RTI) laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (https://www.rti-rating.org/covid-19-tracker/). The aim is to provide a central repository of comparative information on this issue. If you are aware of relevant information which is not posted on this page, please write to us at: laura@law-democracy.org.

“Many governments, in some cases with the acquiescence of information commissions, seem to be taking advantage of this crisis to limit access to information,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “The need for accountability through openness, as well as the imperative need to get relevant information to the public, is greater now than ever.

CLD believes that blanket changes – such as suspending the operation of an RTI law or even imposing across the board delays – are not legitimate. Instead, delays need to be specifically justified. Requests that are of high public importance, in particular because they help hold government to account, should be treated as priorities. At this time, governments are making decisions of overwhelming importance – to the provision of health care, to maintaining respect for human rights and to safeguarding the economy – and maintaining accountability mechanisms, including RTI, is essential to ensuring that those decisions are strong in the first place and are implemented properly.

CLD is currently preparing a briefing note on the RTI standards which apply at this exceptional time, along with an assessment against those standards of the more common measures being taken by governments.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Pakistan: Filing of Legal Brief in Contempt of Court Case

17 March 2020.

The Islamabad High Court in Pakistan has asked for help from experts in determining a number of questions relating to the law of contempt of court and media reporting on ongoing court cases. Late last week, the Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development (IRADA), with support from the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), filed an amicus curiae  brief with the court setting out relevant international standards.

We welcome the fact that the High Court has asked for external views on this important issue”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “There is a tradition across much of South Asia to restrict freedom of expression far beyond what is necessary in the name of protecting the administration of justice and we hope that this case will start to change this.

In the case, which arose from another case involving a bail petition by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, anchors and guests in two television shows suggested that the court hearing the Sharif case had been swayed by the status of the petitioner as former Prime Minister. Contempt proceedings were then brought against five participants in the shows, on the basis that they had obstructed the administration of justice by prejudicing or impeding ongoing court proceedings. In the course of the contempt proceedings, the High Court posed eight questions for the outside experts (amici) that had been appointed. In their brief, IRADA and CLD responded to the same eight questions.

Our brief clearly shows that international standards and comparative practice across a wide range of democracies is strongly protective of free speech even in the context of ongoing court proceedings,” said Muhammad Aftab Alam, Executive Director of IRADA. “We hope that the High Court will accept those standards for Pakistan and find that the TV shows did not constitute contempt of court.

The amicus curiae brief prepared by IRADA and CLD is available at: Amicus Curiae Brief on Contempt of Court.

For further information, please contact:

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

Muhammad Aftab Alam
Executive Director
Institute for Research, Advocacy and Development
Email: ed@irada.org.pk
Tel: +92 321 5959775
www.irada.org.pk
Twitter: @IRADAPK

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Deadline Extended Until 4 March: Come Work for CLD!

Interested in a career in international human rights? We have extended the deadline to apply for a Legal Officer position at CLD until 4 March 2020, at 11:59 PM.

We look forward to receiving your applications. For a full job announcement and instructions on how to apply, see our previous posting

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Case Against Germany: No Right to Information Law in Bavaria Breaches Right to Freedom of Expression

19 February 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) has filed a human rights complaint (communication) against Germany with the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The communication alleges that Germany has failed to meet its obligations to respect freedom of expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights because the German state of Bavaria does not have a right to information (RTI) law. CLD’s client, Mr. Walter Keim, was refused access to public interest documents related to his human rights activism. The communication has now been registered and sent to Germany, which has six months to respond.

“This is a very important case because it tests whether, according to the UN Human Rights Committee, the right to information requires each jurisdiction to adopt a dedicated RTI law,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “If we are successful, this will be a powerful advocacy tool for those advocating for the adoption of RTI laws.

Bavaria does have some limited rules providing for access to information but it lacks a comprehensive RTI law. As a result, certain categories of information are not accessible and there is no procedural framework for lodging of requests or challenging refusals to disclose information. These problems are exemplified by Mr. Keim’s case, in which authorities refused to grant him access to the opinions of two ministries. These opinions had informed the rejection of a petition he made to the Bavarian Parliament asking it to follow-up on the recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights. The German courts held that he had no legal right to access that information, even though no grounds for secrecy were ever put forward by the German authorities.

Germany does have a federal RTI law but it is very weak, ranking in the bottom ten of all RTI laws globally, as assessed by the RTI Rating. In any case, it only applies to federal public authorities.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

3 February 2020.

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

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is a major part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings.

About the Organisation

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

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
    • Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D. equivalent).
    • 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field, including prior experience with freedom of expression or the right to information.
    • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
    • Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
    • Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
    • 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.
    • The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and latest law school transcripts to laura@law-democracy.org, by 11:59 PM on 26 February 2020 Atlantic Daylight Time (**note: this deadline has been extended to 4 March 2020**). Final candidates will be asked for writing samples and two references.

The salary range for this position will be $60,000-$70,000 CAD 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 https://www.law-democracy.org/live/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Legal-Officer.JD_.Feb3_.pdf.

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

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

6 January 2020.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will host up to four interns for the summer of 2020. The position will involve a range of substantive legal work in areas such as freedom of expression, media law, digital rights and access to information.

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

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and the drafting of new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and access to information.
    • Working to promote human rights within the League of Arab States, including by enhancing civil society engagement with that body.
    • Providing technical support to a major project aimed at increasing civil engagement by women and marginalised groups at the local level in Nepal.
    • Working with a range of actors to support implementation of the access to information laws in Pakistan.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Pakistan, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, content restrictions, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Maintaining a comprehensive rating of access to information laws globally (www.rti-rating.org).

We ask interns to commit to at least three months full-time work in our office in Halifax during the months of May to August. These positions are unpaid and we encourage prospective interns to seek funding from their law schools or other sources. Interns will have the opportunity to be directly involved in advancing the cause of human rights, normally in a range of countries over the summer. For more information on CLD’s work, visit our website at www.law-democracy.org.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their resume, cover letter and unofficial law school transcripts to Laura Notess at laura@law-democracy.org by 5 February 2020. Final candidates may be asked to provide a writing sample.

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

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

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Myanmar: Broadcasting Law Delays Undermine Community Radio

6 December 2019.

A workshop in Yangon today highlighted the importance of community radio for Myanmar and the challenges facing this sector given the delays in implementing the 2015 Broadcasting Law. Hosted by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), Protection Committee for Myanmar Journalists and Myanmar Press Freedom Center, with support from IMS and FOJO Media Institute, the workshop provided an opportunity for journalists from around the country to discuss and learn about legal standards for community broadcasting.

Myanmar’s 2015 Broadcasting Law contains strong provisions supporting community radio, including by requiring at least 20% of the broadcast frequency spectrum to be allocated to this sector. As described in a 2016 Note issued by CLD and IMS, the Broadcasting Law is largely in line with international standards and would provide a strong foundation for Myanmar’s broadcasting sector if it were implemented. However, this has not yet happened because implementing By-laws are yet to be adopted, which in turn is a pre-requisite for the appointment of the National Broadcasting Council which will regulate broadcasters.

“A vibrant community broadcasting sector gives voice to communities, allowing them to share and receive information about local issues and contributing to greater media diversity,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, until the Broadcasting Law is implemented, community broadcasters cannot obtain licences to operate.

International standards call for a regulatory system for broadcasting which fosters a three-tiered system – with commercial, public service and community broadcasters – as part of the overall system of promoting media diversity. The Broadcasting Law largely aligns with these standards but it has not yet been implemented more than four years after it was first adopted by parliament due to various delays.

CLD urges the government to move ahead to adopt implementing By-laws and then to appoint the Broadcasting Council as a matter of priority.

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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Global Launch of Right to Information Assessment Tool

13 November 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) launched the Right to Information Implementation Assessment: Comprehensive Methodology yesterday through a “Pitch” (project presentation) at the Paris Peace Forum. Our new website hosting the Methodology – www.RTI-Evaluation.org – also went live at the same time. The Methodology was developed and piloted in Pakistan, and CLD is now planning to apply it in other countries.

“CLD has been working on the development of this Methodology for two years with support from GIZ and in collaboration with a range of local actors in Pakistan,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “It is wonderful to be launching the Methodology globally now and we are already working on applying it in different countries.

The project to develop the Comprehensive Methodology was one of 100 chosen to be presented at the Paris Peace Forum from among over 700 applicants. In addition to the Pitch, CLD also participated in a panel to discuss the importance of evaluating implementation of the right to information alongside speakers from the government and information commission of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and UNESCO.

We call it the Comprehensive Methodology because it seeks to assess how well different actors are doing in meeting all of the obligations under an RTI law. It covers four main assessment areas – Central Measures and, for the individual public authorities that are being assessed, Institutional Measures, Proactive Disclosure and Reactive Disclosure – and six different assessment approaches. The pilot validated the practicality and effectiveness of the Methodology, which has been tweaked to take into account the learning from that exercise.

CLD encourages anyone who is interested in seeing the Methodology applied in new countries to review the tool on the website and to contact us to explore opportunities for this.

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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Zimbabwe: Draft Right to Information Law Needs Improvement

6 November 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) welcomes the fact that Zimbabwe is moving forward to adopt a new law on the right to access information held by public authorities or the right to information, to replace the entirely discredited 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). However, an analysis by CLD of the Freedom of Information Bill, which was provided to local activists and Members of Parliament in September 2019, shows that the new draft Bill needs significant work to bring it into line with international standards.

“It is high time for Zimbabwe to adopt a new, stronger right to information law and we welcome the government’s commitment to do this,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “However, the current draft is only very marginally stronger than the 2002 AIPPA and so needs to be substantially reworked.

A detailed analysis of the Bill, including an assessment according to the RTI Rating, shows that it only garners 72 points out of a possible 150, just two points more than the current AIPPA, at 70. This would place the Bill in 92nd position out of the 128 countries currently on the Rating, just 8 positions above the 100th placed AIPPA.

Some of the key problems with the Bill are as follows:

    • Its scope of coverage of “public entities” is far too narrow.
    • The law should include a specific list of categories of information that public entities must publish on a proactive basis rather than just imposing general proactive obligations.
    • The procedures for making and processing requests should be far more detailed and precise, and designed to be as user-friendly as possible.
    • The regime of exceptions should be narrowed considerably and the public interest override should apply to all exceptions.
    • The law should provide for a dedicated and independent oversight body (information commission) rather than allocating this task to the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

CLD’s detailed analysis is available at: Zimbabwe: Analysis of the Freedom of Information Bill, 2019

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!

27 September 2019.

28 September, International Right to Know Day, is a day when people around the world celebrate the right to access information held by public authorities. A map of some of the key activities shows the truly global scope of engagement on this day around the world. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is participating in three main activities on this day. We have, again, updated the RTI Rating, which now assesses 128 national right to information laws globally. And we participated in a panel discussion in Halifax on updating the Nova Scotian right to information law and a major conference to celebrate the day in Islamabad.

“The truly impressive global and thematic range of activities taking place on International Right to Know Day shows how seriously it is taken around the world,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “CLD is proud to be collaborating with so many different groups, both directly and indirectly, to celebrate this important human right.

The number of countries with right to information laws has grown from 89, when the RTI Rating was first launched in 2011, to 129 today, an increase of 40 or an average of five laws per year. The RTI Rating has kept pace with this growth adding new countries as they have adopted laws and updating countries which have revised or replaced their laws.

In Nova Scotia, Canada, where CLD is based, the right to information law has not materially changed for 25 years. A panel discussion on 26 September involving local RTI experts, including Laura Notess, Legal Officer, CLD, discussed whether the law was in need of renewal, concluding that it was high time for it to be updated.

CLD Executive Director, Toby Mendel, was the Chief Guest at the main event celebrating this day in Islamabad on 27 September, sponsored by a number of local stakeholders. The focus was on implementation of right to information laws in Pakistan which has very strong laws, both nationally and sub-nationally. CLD has worked with GIZ and local stakeholders in Pakistan to develop a sophisticated methodology for assessing implementation of these laws. The methodology is currently being piloted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and will be launched globally in due course.

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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Statement: Stronger Coordination Needed to Counter Global Disinformation on Hong Kong

September 24, 2019

Stronger coordination needed to counter global disinformation on Hong Kong

There is now clear evidence that hundreds of thousands of social media accounts are being used to spread disinformation about Hong Kong’s ongoing political crisis with a view to manipulating public debate. The right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek and receive as well as impart information and ideas, means that governments should not intentionally spread disinformation. Greater efforts are needed on the part of social media companies to understand the scope of this problem and to take action to prevent official disinformation while also respecting the right of users to freedom of expression.

Since the start of protests in Hong Kong in June, the spread of disinformation has been rife with major international social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, caught up in a now well-documented and widespread disinformation campaign. The undersigned international organisations are monitoring the territory’s ongoing political crisis and have now come together to call for concerted action to stop the abuse.

The group has evidence that the disinformation campaigns taking place through the three major online platforms noted above may be just a fraction of a larger global campaign, with sites like the Chinese social media site Weibo falling outside the scope of most monitoring efforts.

In August, reports surfaced that Chinese propaganda operations had run promoted tweets about the Hong Kong protests through Twitter. At the time, Twitter claimed it had already uncovered more than 900 accounts originating from the People’s Republic of China that were “deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong” and an additional network of 200,000 accounts that were part of a broader disinformation campaign.

Following greater scrutiny of its operations, in August Facebook announced that it had found several pages, three groups and five accounts that were involved in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”. As many as 15,000 accounts followed at least one of the pages and 2,200 had joined one of the groups. Following moves by Facebook and Twitter to delete accounts, online video platform YouTube also disabled at least 210 channels hosting videos of the Hong Kong protests. Many of the accounts taken down referred to protesters as terrorists, accusing them of operating at the whim of foreign interests. Twitter said it disabled thousands of accounts that it had “reliable evidence to support that this is a coordinated state-backed operation.”

The crisis in Hong Kong has revealed to the world the potential capacity and reach of disinformation campaigns by China, which are part of a wider strategy to disrupt public narratives relating to China and to use media and social media for explicitly political purposes. The disinformation strategy extends the influence of Chinese systematic domestic State control over “news” under current regulations that require any news published by media outlets to follow the “reporting” lines of official media outlets.

The wider ramification of the disinformation campaign is a clear and determined effort to undermine independent media’s role in reporting the situation and to confuse individuals, including those most affected by the political crisis.

The action to shut down disinformation accounts clearly linked to the Chinese authorities contributes to more transparency, reliability and accuracy in the social media space. However, the size of these companies and their underlying business models (i.e. reliance on monetizing the massive collection and use of our data) are also part of the challenge,” the undersigned organisations said.

The term “inauthentic behavior” is the term most commonly used by the companies to refer to malicious activity on the part of State actors. However, this term tends to simplify the real nature of the problem, which is very complex. There are, for example, serious questions about what standards these companies should apply when they take actions which essentially amount to censoring speech.

While discussions on the Hong Kong protests were initially silenced on Chinese social media, that situation has flipped with content about the demonstrations now trending on social media platform Weibo, video app Douyin, news app Toutiao and WeChat. According to whatsonweibo.com, the Weibo hashtag “Protect Hong Kong” (#守护香港#) has had over 5 billion views. The hashtag is promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily, which also launched another viral hashtag, namely “Officers, We Support You” (#阿sir我们挺你#, with 300 million views). The discourse in these online spaces reflects a common thread to the effect that the Hong Kong Police Force is dealing with “thugs” or “bandits” (“暴徒”). A common stance expressed by Chinese netizens is that pro-democracy protesters are “damaging public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation”, as reported by What’s on Weibo.

“More coordination is needed to independently verify the scope of the problem of the disinformation accounts and campaign, which extends far beyond Facebook, Twitter and YouTube,” the undersigned organisations said. “A question arises as to how effective these efforts are in stemming such a large scale campaign?”

Action by the social media platforms largely came after the exposure, by outside observers, of critical issues around reporting on Hong Kong, for example that Chinese propaganda operations had run paid tweets about the protests on Twitter. Following this, Twitter announced that it will no longer accept advertising revenues from State-controlled news media entities. The policy will not apply to taxpayer-funded media and independent public broadcasters. Twitter has enlisted groups such as Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House to help it determine which media are covered by the ban, which will be a difficult line-drawing exercise.

“There is a critical need right now to track discourse online so as to block efforts by China and other countries which seek to spread disinformation online and to make provide greater support to independent media in its efforts to counter disinformation,” the undersigned organisations said.

Signed:

International Federation of Journalists

Hong Kong Journalists Association

Centre for Law and Democracy

 

For further information contact:

IFJ Asia-Pacific: Simon Beck: ifj.coordinator@ifj-asia.org,  +61 2 9333 0946 

Hong Kong Journalists Association: hkja@hkja.org.hk

Centre for Law and Democracy: Toby Mendel: toby@law-democracy.org, +1 902 431-3688

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Join CLD in Halifax on 26 September for a Panel on Your Right to Know

In the lead-up to International Right to Know Day 2019, CLD invites you to a panel on Democracy in Action: The Future of Your Right to Know, on 26 September at 5:00 PM at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Windsor Foundation Lecture Theatre.

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Myanmar: Archives Law Fails to Respect the Right to Information

28 August 2019.

The government of Myanmar has put forward a new National Records and Archives Law to modernise the system of maintaining records and archives in the country. While the overall thrust of the draft Law is positive, it fails to respect standards regarding public access to information in several key respects. Given that Myanmar has still not adopted a right to information law, it is unfortunate that other laws, including this one, are being put forward which risk undermining the longer term objective of opening up government.

“We support efforts that may result in better records management and preservation,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “But these need to take a wider view of information as a social phenomenon and, in particular, respect the idea that citizens have a right to access information held by public authorities.

Some of the key weaknesses of the draft Law in terms of access to information include the following:

    • The proposed system of classification appears to set rigid periods of secrecy which are in any case far too long, fails to define the different levels of classification, and seems to assume that all information will be subject to at least some period of secrecy.
    • Access to information, whether or not its classification remains in force, is subject to the discretion of officials, rather than being recognised as a right.
    • Unreasonable restrictions are imposed on the use of information obtained from the Archives.
    • The draft Law include a public interest override for accessing information, which is welcomed, but clearer rules on the application of the override are needed.

CLD encourages those responsible for developing the draft Law to revise it to ensure that it respects international standards regarding the right to information.

The CLD Analysis and the draft Law are available at: Note on the Draft Myanmar National Records and Archives Law and Draft National Records and Archives Law

For further information, please contact:

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

Pernille Kristensen
Programme Manager, Myanmar
IMS-Fojo
Email: pbk@mediasupport.org
https://www.mediasupport.org

Nwezin Win
Executive Director
Pyi Gyi Khin
Email: nwezinwin@pgkmyanmar.org
+95 95031246
www.facebook.com/PyiGyiKhinMyanmar

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!

23 August 2019.

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

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is a major part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings. Salary for the position will be competitive and commensurate with experience. The Job Description is available at: Legal Officer Job Description

About the Organisation

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

    • Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
    • Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
    • Providing training and support to journalists, lawyers, judges and activists in multiple countries on media law and human rights issues.
    • Providing expert input into law reform processes in a range of countries, including Tanzania, Vietnam, Indonesia and Mongolia.
    • Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
    • Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

    • A law degree (LL.B or J.D.).
    • Significant demonstrable experience of working in the field of human rights, ideally specifically freedom of expression or the right to information.
    • Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
    • Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
    • Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
    • Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
    • The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
    • Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
    • A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
    • Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
    • Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

    • An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
    • 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field.
    • Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South.
    • Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets.
    • Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors.
    • An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
    • The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
    • Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and latest law school transcripts to laura@law-democracy.org, by 11:59 PM on 13 September 2019 Atlantic Daylight Time. Final candidates will be asked for writing samples and two references.

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

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UNESCO: Overview Report on SDG 16.10.2 Data Exercise

13 August 2019.

UNESCO has launched an overview report on its 2019 SDG Indicator 16.10.2 data collection exercise, Highlights from the 2019 UNESCO Monitoring and Reporting of SDG Indicator 16.10.2 – Access to Information: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information. The data collection exercise – covering 43 Voluntary National Review (VNR) countries – and initial reporting were done by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). A full report is expected in due course.

“As an early pilot data collection exercise for SDG Indicator 16.10.2, focusing on implementation of right to information laws, the results are impressive,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “We now plan to provide training to information commissions so that they will be able to conduct the exercise in 2020.

The UNESCO methodology involved two surveys, one focusing on the work of central oversight bodies and one focusing on individual public authorities, both largely completed as self-reporting exercises. The first survey was filled out for all 43 countries and the second for 73 public authorities in 17 countries.

One of the more dramatic outcomes was the extremely positive results given by individual public authorities regarding the processing of requests, including an 81% rate of providing information in response to requests and an 80% rate of responding to requests within the initial time limits. Unfortunately, these figures do not correspond to the results of independent requesting exercises, suggesting that better data collection by public authorities may be needed. The exercise suggested that oversight bodies do a better job of collecting information about appeals, while still leaving significant room for improvement.

Some other selected results from the data collection exercise were:

• One-half of the countries which reported on this said that appeals were resolved, on average, in 31-60 days, while the other half took 61 days or more.
• Most countries claimed to have conducted public awareness raising activities.
• Overall, public authorities claimed to have proactively disclosed information across 14 different categories 59% of the time.

More detailed information about the results is contained in the overview report.

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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Note on the Draft African Declaration on Freedom of Expression

1 August 2019.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa in 2002. The Declaration, containing 16 principles setting out detailed standards relating to different aspects of the right to freedom of expression, has been very widely welcomed as a strong and progressive statement on this fundamental right. After 17 years, the Commission has now decided to update the Declaration and, to this end, the African Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information released a new draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa for comments in May 2019.

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and the Freedom of Expression Hub (FOE-HUB) have submitted a detailed Note on the draft Declaration to the Special Rapporteur with a view to ensuring that the final version is fully in line with and that it represents a strong effort to progressively develop established international standards.

“We very much welcome the idea of updating the Declaration given the massive changes to the freedom of expression landscape that have occurred since 2002,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “But of course we hope that any new Declaration remains as progressive and forward-looking as the current Declaration was when it was first adopted.

“The first draft of the new Declaration is very encouraging,” said Catherine Anite, Executive Director, FOE-HUB. “But we also feel that there are a number of important ways that it could be further improved, as set out in our Note.

The Note provides both a small number of general comments on improving the overall approach of the draft Declaration and then a much larger number of specific comments on some of the 103 Principles it contains.

CLD and FOE-HUB encourage the Special Rapporteur and others working on the draft Declaration to take our comments and those submitted by other stakeholders into account as they work on revising the draft. We remain ready to provide such support as may be useful as the drafting process moves forward.

The CLD/FOE-HUB Note is available at: Note on the Draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the draft Declaration is available at: Draft Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa

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

Catherine Anite
Executive Director
FOE-HUB
Email: catherine.anite@gmail.com
+256 752557073
http://foehub.org
twitter: @Xpressionhub

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The Gambia: Progress on Access to Information

30 July 2019.

The Gambia is one of a declining number of African countries that still does not have a law giving individuals a right to access information held by public authorities, or a right to information (RTI) law. However, there is some movement on this issue with the preparation of an Access to Information Bill for The Gambia, including with the participation of the Gambia Press Union. The Centre for Law and Democracy has prepared an Analysis of the Bill, which scores 116 out of a possible total of 150 points on the RTI Rating, which would put it in a very respectable 16th place out of the 124 countries around the world whose laws are currently assessed on the Rating.

“It is very encouraging that a right to information law may be on the horizon for The Gambia,” said Toby Mendel, Executive Director, CLD. “We hope that our analysis can help ensure that the Bill is as strong as it can be and that progress continues until it is adopted into law.

Some of the particular strengths of the Bill are its broad scope, especially in terms of public authorities covered, independent and effective system of appeals, and strong rules on protections and sanctions. Areas for further improvement include:

  • Strengthening the guarantees for the right of access.
  • Amending the procedures for making and processing requests for information so that they are more user-friendly and comprehensive.
  • Removing the unfettered power of the Minister to expand the regime of exceptions.
  • Introducing more effective promotional measures to support implementation.

CLD encourages those responsible for developing the draft to introduce these and the other improvements recommended in our Analysis it before it is formally put forward for legal adoption. We also offer our support for this process.

The CLD Analysis is available at Gambia Access to Information Analysis  and the Bill is available at Gambia Access to Information Bill.

For further information, please contact:

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

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Launch of Reports on SDG 16.10.2

15 July 2019.

Civil society organisations in ten countries have produced parallel reports on the implementation of laws giving individuals a right to access to information held by public authorities (right to information or RTI laws) using the methodology for this prepared by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet). This methodology is specially designed to facilitate parallel reporting by civil society groups. First designed and applied in 2017-18, the current methodology was launched on International Right to Know Day, 28 September 2018.

A synthesis or spotlight report, Road to 2030: Access to Information in the Driver’s Seat, has been launched at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) currently taking place at the United Nations in New York. This report provides an overview of the general findings from the ten country reports, summary reports from each country and also, in Annexes, more detailed statistical information from each country.

It is wonderful to see the FOIAnet methodology having been applied in the ten countries and then presented in a spotlight report at the HLPF”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Hopefully we can continue to increase the number of countries where civil society groups are applying this methodology.

The Centre for Law and Democracy applied the FOIAnet methodology in Canada, which is one of the countries reflected in the synthesis report. We also produced a full report on the application of the methodology in Canada. Overall, Canada did well, getting a green grade, although some public authorities did better than others.

The synthesis report is available at: Road to 2030: Access to Information in the Driver’s Seat and the Canadian report is available at: Canada: Civil Society Parallel Assessment of Compliance with Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2. The FOIAnet methodology is available at: http://foiadvocates.net/?page_id=11036.

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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20th Anniversary Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs

10 July 2019.

Today, in London, at the Global Conference for Media Freedom, the four special mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their Twentieth Anniversary Joint Declaration: Challenges to Freedom of Expression in the Next Decade. Drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), the Declaration highlights the challenges that freedom of expression is expected to face over the next decade.

The fact that Joint Declarations have been issued continuously for 20 years is itself a tremendous achievement”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “This Declaration is special inasmuch as it provides a framework to guide monitoring of future threats to freedom of expression.

The first section, on an enabling environment, focuses on both traditional threats – such as safety, excessive content restrictions, maintaining media diversity and the need for independent, accountable regulators – as well as some more modern ones – such as the dominance of online companies in terms of advertising, the need for States to respect human rights when seeking to influence major online intermediaries, restrictions on encryption and anonymity tools, and the growth in surveillance. The next section, on a free, open and inclusive Internet, looks at issues such as ensuring universal, affordable, quality Internet access, disruptions and shutdowns, network neutrality and State actions that fragment the Internet.

The last section examines the threat of private control over digital communications systems. It calls for independent multi-stakeholder oversight of the application of private content rules, regulatory measures to address business models which foster disinformation and hate speech, company responsibilities to respect human rights, transparency in algorithmic and artificial intelligence moderation of content, and effective measures to address concentration of ownership and abuses of dominant market positions.

The Joint Declaration is available in English and other languages at:

2019 Joint Declaration in Arabic
2019 Joint Declaration in English
2019 Joint Declaration in French
2019 Joint Declaration in 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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Join CLD at the Open Government Partnership Summit 2019

On 30 May 2019, CLD will lead a panel on “Three Methodologies to Assess the Implementation of SDG Indicator 16.10.2” at the 2019 Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit 2019 in Ottawa, Canada. The session will be from 10:30-11:50 in Room 205 in the Shaw Centre. It will feature a discussion of various methodologies for assessing State progress towards implementating right to information laws.

Further information can be found here.

CLD welcomes all OGP Summit participants to attend the workshop. We look forward to seeing you there!

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