UNESCO holds a National Conference on Access to Information Law in Cambodia
From 30 to 31 May 2013, UNESCO Phnom Penh Office, in cooperation with the Embassy of Sweden, Advocacy Policy Institute, and the Cambodia Center for Independent Media, held a National Conference on Access to Information Law. The main objectives of the national conference were to discuss the importance of access to information in the context of improving livelihoods, governance and freedom of expression in Cambodia. The conference provided a forum in which government, development partners and civil society members shared knowledge through interaction with regional and international experts on drafting, passing and implementing an A2I law.
The conference was opened by the Ambassador of Sweden, H.E. Ms. Anne Höglund, UNESCO Representative, Ms. Anne Lemaistre, and Representative of the Minister of Information, Mr. Thach Penh who all emphasized that the right to information is recognized as part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas, as set forth by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Ambassador of Sweden H.E. Ms. Anne Höglund underscored the importance of reinitiating efforts and moving forward with an Access to Information legislation in the country: “Access to information and openness are key parts of democracy and good governance. To give some concrete examples, government decisions are likely to be of higher quality and to better reflect the needs and wishes of the people if they are based on adequate information and broad consultations, with views and opinions freely shared.”
Session one explored the importance of Access to Information in Cambodia and around the world and examined information’s effect on society from civil society and media perspectives. Mr. Sinthay Neb, Director of Advocacy Policy Institute correlated the improved livelihoods of Cambodians with higher quality and quantity of information that citizens received. The session demonstrated how Access to information could help citizens respond to issues that are critical to their security and livelihoods including land and housing issues, especially those related to economic and social land concessions, natural resource management issues, and other developments affecting communities such as hydro-power dams. With case studies from Sweden, Ms. Anette Novak, shared perspectives from a country with an Access to Information Law dating all the way back to 1766. She explored the changing media landscape in the digital era, and emphasized the increasing citizens’ role in contributing to the creation and dissemination of information. Finally, Mr. Pa Nguon Teang, Director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, called for an Access to Information law to protect the safety of journalists from legal and physical attacks. Journalists’ right to information and access to official documents facilitate their public interest work in conveying information and securing an informed citizenry.
H.E. Ms. Men Sam An, Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister, Ministry of National Assembly and Senate Relations closed the conference with a positive outlook and promise for good cooperation in the near future. In 2004, the Royal Government formally acknowledged the need for an A2I law in order to create transparent government, reduce corruption, and promote confidence in the government by the citizens of Cambodia. The Draft Policy Paper on Access to Information was completed in late August 2007, but has not been forwarded to the Council of Ministers for review.
At the closing ceremony, Ms. Anne Lemaistre, UNESCO Representative in Cambodia, remarked, “As we have heard from case studies of countries around the world including Sweden, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, information is vital for individual citizens, communities, and citizen’s organizations if they are to fully participate in the democratic process. International experiences have shown that everyone including the government, civil society, journalists, students, businesses and communities, can benefit from an Access to Information law.” She further reaffirmed that UNESCO stands ready to assist the Royal Government of Cambodia in continuing its work towards access to information and an open and transparent society.
For more information, please contact Ms. Jamie Lee by email hj.lee(at)unesco.org
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