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Uganda Hosts First Commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information in Africa

Access to Information is necessary for the realization of fundamental human rights, key to achieving sustainable development and economic growth. This reality was further underscored with the ongoing global pandemic, in the course of which the significance of the right of Access to Information was illustrated as an essential lever of governments and the health institutions worldwide to mitigating the risks brought forth by the COVID-19 crisis.

On 28 September 2020, UNESCO in collaboration with the Africa Freedom of Information Centre and the UN family in Uganda commemorated the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) in Africa. This was the first commemoration of this International Day since its adoption on 15 October 2019 by the 74th UN General Assembly.

This year’s commemoration was themed: "Access to Information in times of crisis",  particularly timely as the world is faced with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this theme, Member States and relevant stakeholders were called upon to renew their commitment for adoption and implementation at national level relevant legal, statutory and/or policy that guarantee access to information, and enhance proactive disclosure of information and responsiveness of public institutions.

Participants to this event were drawn from international, regional, and national institutions such as UN Resident Office in Uganda, line Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Access to Information oversight bodies, civil society, academia, the media, among others.

In his welcome address, Mr Gilbert Sendugwa, Executive Director, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) stressed that timely access to information can make the difference between life and death in this global pandemic era. He further applauded the African Union’s renewed commitment towards ensuring public access to information and echoed its call to those who have not yet domesticated Access to Information laws to swiften the process and make it a priority to adopt such  laws.

During the commemoration, Ms Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator and the Designated Official for Security, recalled that there are millions of people including women, youth, persons with disabilities who continue to struggle every day to access basic information important for their survival; and yet COVID-19 has demonstrated that access to public information is critical as it contributes to both preventing the spread and mitigating the impact.

 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by all 193 UN Member States calls on all of us to protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone. The SDGs recognize public access to Information within Goal 16, which addresses the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies. In addition, the right of access to Information has long been recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, among others.
Ms. Rosa Malango, UN Resident Coordinator and the Designated Official for Security

She further reaffirmed the UN continued support to its Member States towards achieving the sustainable development goals targets by 2030, and outlined inclusive partnerships, innovative technologies, robust information systems as well as positive values and principles to achieve the national vision, as areas of focus in Uganda in this process.

The UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework recently launched by President Yoweri Museveni was developed to support the implementation of the NDP III, with the 2030 Agenda targets at its core. Our first Strategic Priority is Transformative and Inclusive Governance including promoting access to information.
Ms. Rosa Malango, UN Resident Coordinator and the Designated Official for Security

Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa affirmed that UNESCO as the custodian of SDG 16.10.2, firmly believes that access to information must be recognized as a norm in sustainable development, and as a prerequisite for countries to respect, promote and protect human rights for all. She therefore called upon governments to enact and fully implement Right to Information laws and to demonstrate their unique value during times of crisis.

As we rebuild and re-adapt our societies to the “new normal”, the Right to Information must be at the centre of efforts to ensure a more informed and resilient tomorrow
Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa

She further reiterated that governments must commit to the common good by promoting the innovative use of digital technologies for building resilient information infrastructures, and by creating enabling environments for safer and transparent data collection mechanisms that strengthen record keeping and enable accurate analysis of issues in the public interest.

Hon Jamesina Essy L. King, The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa highlighted that the unprecedented times that we are living in calls for free and timely access to information.   

The significance of the right to information cannot be overstated. You will agree with me that the right to access information has never been more important. COVID-19 has proven to us all that access to information is the weapon to fight the pandemic.
Hon. Jamesina Essy L. King

She also encouraged state parties, civil society actors, among others to continue to engage the special mandate of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and report where the fundamental rights to information and freedom of expression are violated.

Mr Paul Amoru, Member of Parliament and Chairperson Parliamentary Committee on ICT and National Guidance noted that access to information is not a privilege but a fundamental human right. He believes it enables every individual to receive, seek and impart information effectively. According to him.

Uganda and other UN States committed to the Sustainable Development Framework which under SDG 16.10.2 calls on Member States to ensure citizen’s access to information. The right to information is a specific manifestation of the freedom of expression protected by Article 41 of the Ugandan Constitution.
Mr. Paul Amoru

He underlined that access to information is not only a human right but also serves as an enabler of all the other human rights, especially enabling citizens to hold governments to account.

Taking the floor on this occasion, Dr Yonas Tegegn, Country Representative World Health Organization to Uganda, insisted that the values and the role of access to information in mitigating the impact of crisis cannot be overemphasized.

The fight against COVID-19 is impossible without access to information. Some countries that have not disclosed accurate and timely information have actually been greatly affected by the pandemic.
Dr. Yonas Tegegn, Country Representative World Health Organization to Uganda

He then advocated for citizens access to accurate information on health crisis and recommended that information should not only be accessible but most importantly, it should be accurate.

Ms Nicole Bjerler, Head of Facility, Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), congratulated AFIC for leading the commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information and called upon governments to remove barriers to access to information but instead open up, and allow citizens to monitor and share feedback with them.

During this first commemoration event, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre and its partners called upon:

  • Thirty (30) African countries to adopt respective national access to information laws taking guidance from the Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member States;
  • Uganda and 24 other African countries to effectively implement access to information laws in line with SDG 16.10.2;
  • Parliament of Uganda to amend the Access to Information Act and bring it in line with the Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member States;
  • The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to support CSOs to monitor disclosure of Covid-19 response procurements recipient countries; and
  • UNESCO and UNPD to support African governments adopt and implement access to information laws in line with SDG 16.10.2

At the closing of the IDUAI commemoration, Ms Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator and the Designated Official for Security congratulated Africa Freedom of Information Centre and its partners for tirelessly advocating for recognition of this day as an important achievement for Uganda and Africa. She further stated that the UN system remains committed to working with the Government and people of Uganda as well as development partners in the region to advance the realization of the fundamental human right of access to information as a pathway for sustainable development and transformative governance.