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New guidelines issued for Information Commissioners for fostering access to information through the Universal Periodic Review


UNESCO has released new guidelines “The Universal Periodic Review and its potential to foster access to information”, which can strengthen the role of a key UN mechanism in advancing the right to information.

The helpful suggestions in this new brochure give Information Commissioners practical advice on how to use the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to strengthen the right to access public information.

The initiative reflects UNESCO’s status as the UN custodian agency for Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 16.10.2. It helps to popularise and strengthen the UPR process by providing advice to regulatory authorities with oversight of access to information, and in particular Information Commissioners.

Previous analysis of the UPR process by UNESCO shows a range of recommendations arising from the UPR process that are positive in regard to the right to information in general, as well as its place in promoting gender equality and the right to health.

Building on this, the new guidelines are custom-designed for Information Commissioners, Ombudspersons, and any other regulatory authorities, including transparency councils or boards, engaged in protecting, promoting, and ensuring implementation of access to public information legislation.  

Recently-published UNESCO research shows that these institutions are an essential component of a well-functioning legal framework for access to information, especially when they have autonomous decision-making authority to carry out their mandate.

The existence of a right of access to public information is increasingly accepted around the world, both at the domestic and at the international level.  Mr Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, recalled during the 2021 celebrations of the International Day of Universal Access to Information that: “132 UN Member States have adopted Constitutional guarantees or enacted Access to Information laws. This is a major achievement, and more can still be done. It is necessary to encourage the adoption of such laws and support their implementation where they already exist to foster sustainable development and allow each and every one to take informed decisions”.

The Right to Public Access to Information means the right to life, the right to earn a living, the right to live in a society governed by the rule of the law, the right to live in a society free of corruption, the right to know how algorithms are constructed and used against the population, the right to know the data that are being collected about oneself, the right to live in a just society, as the right to hold government to account.

Suzanne Legault, author of the Guidelines and former Information Commissioner of Canada

These laws, or their absence, is being increasingly scrutinized from the point of view of the right to information by human rights agencies. Under the auspices of the Human Rights Council, the UPR is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. The mechanism provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve human rights in their country and to consider recommendations from their peers. It is informed by reports submitted by Member States, civil society and UN agencies. 

Information Commissioners are able to input into submissions to the UPR, and they are directly implicated when there are recommendations, accepted by the Member State concerned, about strengthening the right to information in that country.

The guidelines will be soon available in all six UN languages. They were made possible within the framework of UNESCO’s Multi-Donor Programme on Freedom of Expression and the Safety of Journalists. 

The Universal Periodic Review is a valuable mechanism facilitating the promotion and protection of all human rights around the world […] For states to make informed, perceptive recommendations to one another, stakeholders need to be made aware of and analyse human rights related information from all states.

Nazhat Khan, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to UN and former President of the Human Rights Council

About the Multi-Donor Programme for Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists (MDP)

MDP serves to strengthen UNESCO work at a global, regional, and national levels, by channeling funds towards emerging priorities and the most pressing needs to achieve its mandate on freedom of expression. It enables UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector to address complex issues through the design and implementation of holistic medium and long-term interventions at national, regional and global levels. The mechanism allows UNESCO and its partners to achieve greater impact and sustainability, whilst reducing fragmentation of activities in the same field.