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Freedom of Information in Latin America and the Caribbean

The Latin American and Caribbean region has seen an impressive number of countries adopting freedom of information (FOI) laws in the past decade.

Currently, 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have national FOI laws: Antigua and Barbuda (2004); Belize (1994)Brazil (2011); Colombia (1985); Chile (2008); Dominican Republic (2004); Ecuador (2004)El Salvador (2011); Guatemala (2008); Guyana (2013); Honduras (2006); Jamaica (2002); Mexico (2002); Nicaragua (2007); Panama (2002); Peru (2002), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (2003) and Trinidad and Tobago (1999). A Presidential Decree on FOI exists in Argentina (2003)

Framing developments at the country level was a strong regional legal framework which over the years has created sound legal standards related to the right of freedom of information, fostering the adoption of FOI legislation in a growing number of countries characterized by strong civil society advocacy for FOI. 

The right to freedom of information as part of the right of freedom of expression was recognized by Article 13 of the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), as well as by the 1994 Declaration of Chapultepec. In 1997, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at the Organization of American States (OAS) created the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, which has strongly supported FOI. The Commission also approved the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression (2000), which reaffirms such support. More recently, the OAS facilitated the development of a model Inter-American FOI law. In 2006, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a decision stating that the general guarantee of freedom of expression enshrined in Article 13 of the ACHR protects very person’s right to access information held by the state, encompassing the positive obligation of the State to provide it, without the need for the requester “to prove direct interest or personal involvement in order to obtain it, except in cases in which a legitimate restriction is applied”(Case of Claude Reyes and Others v. Chile). This ruling marked the first decision by an international court in recognition of FOI. Further, in December 2010, the Inter-American Court issued another landmark ruling finding an infringement of FOI and outlining important guidelines on access to information related to human rights violations (Case of Gomes Lund v. Brazil).

Despite the progressive trend in the legal front at the country and regional levels, the experience of Latin America and the Caribbean also serves to illustrate the difficulties in implementing FOI legislation, including setting up adequate mechanisms to allow timely information access, promoting a cultural change towards transparency among public servants and fostering public demand for information.

Find out more on how UNESCO is promoting the sharing of knowledge on FOI in Latin America and the Caribbean and supporting countries in the region to face FOI-related challenges, by reading the features below and the related news section.

The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey

This legal survey, published by UNESCO’s Office in Quito, compares the existing right to information laws in 11 Latin American countries: Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay. >> More information

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