Friday, October 13, 2006

International Tribunal Makes Landmark Ruling on Access to Information

Press release from the Justice initiative:

New York, October 12, 2006—The Inter-American Court of Human Rights broke new ground in declaring that all people have a general right of access to government-held information, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today.

The Court's pioneering ruling in the case Marcel Claude Reyes and Others v. Chile marks the first time an international tribunal has confirmed the existence of a full right of access to information held by government and other public bodies. In Reyes, the Court was interpreting Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, as it applied to government denial of requests for information.

"This is an historic judgment," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative. "The court has made it clear that access to information is essential to democratic participation and freedom of expression."

The Justice Initiative joined with four other groups in filing a "friend of the court" brief in support of Claude Reyes, who filed a request with the Chilean government in 1998, seeking information on a massive logging project. (The brief is available online)

In its decision, released yesterday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights referred specifically to a new Justice Initiative publication, Transparency & Silence , which compares freedom of information laws and practices in 14 countries, including Chile.

In the ruling, the court also established that countries must train public officials on procedures for releasing information and that they must be guided by the principle of "maximum disclosure," meaning that, with few exceptions, all government-held information must be made accessible.

"This ruling is about more than just one case in one country," said Darian Pavli, the Justice Initiative's legal officer for freedom of information and expression. "It establishes a precedent that other courts and other countries should now follow."

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