Eva Moraga on Fri, 7 Sep 2007 19:11:19 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Urgent Action re Council of Europe Treaty on Access to Docs

Dear Nettimers, 

I know this list is dedicated to formulate an international, networked
discourse in art, politics, information and communication. That is
why I am sending to you information about a campaign that Access
Info Europe, Article 19 and the Open Society Justice Initiative have
launched to call for the future European Convention on Access to
Official Documents, currently in preparation by the Council of Europe,
to meet international standards and to ensure adequate protection of
the right to information. This right is extremely important for all
sectors in society in general. That is the reason why we are urging
organizations and individuals in all sectors in society, interested
in defending freedom of information around the world, to join the
campaign through a sign-up letter (attached) and other actions (listed
The problem: If the current draft of the Convention is adopted it will
become the world?s first treaty to guarantee the right of access to
information but it will fall below prevailing European and international
standards, thereby flying in the face of the enormous progress made in the
past several years. The final drafting session will take place in Strasbourg
during 9-12 October 2007. 

The future Convention will establish a right to request ?official
documents?, which are broadly defined as all information held by
public authorities, in any form. On the positive side, the Convention
will establish that the right to ?official documents? can be exercised
by all persons with no need to demonstrate a particular interest in
the information requested, and at no charge for filing requests and
viewing documents.

However, the draft treaty has a number of serious flaws:

1. Failure to include all official documents held by legislative
bodies and judicial authorities within the mandatory scope of the

2. Failure to include official documents held by natural and legal
persons insofar as they perform public functions within the mandatory
scope of the treaty;

3. Failure to specify certain basic categories of official documents,
such as those containing financial or procurement information, that
must be published proactively.

4. Absence of a guarantee that individuals will have access to an
appeals body which has the power to order public authorities to
disclose official documents.

5. Absence of a guarantee that individuals will be able to appeal
against violations of the right of access other than "denial" of a
request (such as unjustified failures to provide access in a timely
fashion or in the form preferred by the requester).

6. Lax drafting of exceptions that permit withholding of official
documents under the internal deliberations and commercial interest

a. There are no time limits on the application of the internal
deliberations exemption; such documents may be withheld indefinitely,
even after a final decision on the matter has been taken;

b. The treaty should protect only ?legitimate commercial interests,?
not all and any ?commercial interests,? as in the present draft.

7. Absence of a requirement that states set statutory maximum
time-limits within which requests must be processed. More analysis
of these problems can be found in the attached documents in

The final drafting session in Strasbourg starts on 9 October 2007.
We need to take action now to convince governments the 47 member
states of the Council of Europe to insist on improvements to the draft
Convention before it is finalized. We plan to use International Right
to Know Day, 28 September 2007, to highlight these concerns.

ACTION: We are aiming for as many signatures as possible from
NGOs (civil society groups) and individuals across Europe
and around the world by 28 September. You can sign up by
writing to me (eva@access-info.org), or to the e-mail address
treaty@access-info.org. The deadline for signing is 17 hrs CET (5 pm)
on Wednesday 26th September, so that we can release it to the media
for coverage on 28th September.

Please encourage NGOs and individuals you know to sign as well. All
human rights and other civil society groups should care about this
issue and are welcome to sign the letter. Interested individuals can
also sign. A copy of the letter and a sign-up link can be found on
the home page of Access Info: www.access-info.org, along with more

A copy of the draft treaty can be found via a link on the Access Info
home page.

OTHER ACTIONS: A list of WHAT YOU CAN DO and these ideas are copied
below. These actions are mainly for people in the 47 Council of Europe
member states, but others are welcome to do whatever they can to
support the campaign: this treaty will have a global relevance!!

Access Info Europe (Helen Darbishire and Eva Moraga) is coordinating
the campaign, liaising with Article 19 (Daniel Simons) and the Justice
Initiative (Sandra Coliver, Darian Pavli and Eszter Filippinyi).
Please contact any of us to discuss what action you can take! Here are
some ideas:

? Contact your representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe: Every Council of Europe member state
sends parliamentarians to the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe (PACE). If possible, meet with your country?s
representatives and call on them to raise the issue in the
next session of the Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg. The
national delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly are listed here
http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/AssemblyList/AL_DelegationsList_E.asp ?
Get the support of other NGOs: Translate information about the the
problems with the Convention into your language and distribute it to
other civil society groups: encourage them to sign the letter. This
issue is relevant to human rights groups, environmentalists, consumer
groups, women?s and youth groups ? anyone who needs information
should care about this issue! ? Spread the word: Let other interested
communities know about the issue and call on them to take action and
disseminate the news: archivists, librarians, bloggers, and academics
(such as in faculties of communication, law, political science, etc)
are among the groups of people who are likely to care about this issue
and help raise concerns. ? Discuss with Information Commissioners: If
your country has an Information Commissioner, let them know about this
issue and discuss what joint actions you might be able to organise,
such as a public debate of the right to information. In other
countries it is possible that Data Protection Commissioners and Human
Rights Ombudspersons would be interested in the issue and ready to
participate in public discussions or talk to members of government. ?
Write to your government: Write to your Head of Government (President
or Prime Minister as appropriate) and the Ministers of Justice and
Foreign Affairs and call on them to urge their representatives at the
Council of Europe to take action to press for the treaty to meet the
minimum standards. Get as many national NGOs as possible to sign the
letter to your government.

? Brief the politicians: Try to meet with government representatives
to explain the issues to them ? find out what their opinion is and
if they will support the call for a strong treaty. ? Try for a
parliamentary resolution: Brief parliamentarians and, where possible,
urge them to adopt a resolution calling for the treaty to meet minimum
standards (declarations of support from political parties could also
be helpful). ? Brief the media: Tell journalists (especially those who
write about access to information) about the problems and get them
to write stories: ask them to ask the government what it is doing to
ensure the treaty meets the highest standards. Let the media know that
on September 28, International Right to Know Day, there will be news
about how many groups have signed the NGO letter as well as about
actions taking place all across Europe. ? Right to Know Day Special
Actions: On 28 September, in addition to your regular Right to Know
Day activities, take some special action to promote awareness of the
Council of Europe treaty problem. Keep an eye on the Access Info
Europe website for the latest news on what groups are doing around
Europe and how many NGOs have signed the joint letter.

Countries with representatives on the Groups of Specialists are
Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands,
Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Turkey
and United Kingdom.
Other countries may participate in the discussions ? Slovenia was one such
participant in the July 2007 drafting session. Since all 47 Council of
Europe member countries have a representative in Strasbourg, it may be that
your government can send this person (or another appropriate representative
such as the Information Commissioner from your country) to make a
contribution to the final treaty drafting session.  

Need more info? If you would like to know more about how the process
in Strasbourg works and to discuss what action to take, please feel
free to call us: Access Info tel: +34 91 743 14 73 and ask for
Helen Darbishire (Via Skype: helen_darbishire) or Eva Moraga (Via

The Access Info Team


Access Info Europe
Tel: + 34 91 743 14 73
Fax: + 34 91 741 31 05


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