ASEAN: Access to information essential for strengthening public participation
29 Sep 2011
On International Right to Know Day, ARTICLE 19, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Media Defence-Southeast Asia and SAPA Task Force on ASEAN Freedom of Information, urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to demonstrate its commitment to public participation by promoting access to information within ASEAN and among its member states.
Across the world, the right to information is widely recognised - by regional bodies and more than 90 countries alike - as a fundamental human right essential for the achievement of every person’s civil, political and socio-economic rights and as a mechanism to promote democratic accountability and good governance. These include the ASEAN member states of Indonesia, Thailand, and the federal state of Selangor in Malaysia.
ASEAN is gradually moving towards greater incorporation of public participation. At the 18th ASEAN Summit in May 2011, the Chair’s statement emphasised that ASEAN member states will continue to “encourage the participation of the peoples and other stakeholders of ASEAN” and intensify its work towards a “people-oriented, people-centred and rules-based ASEAN”.
Regional bodies of a similar nature to ASEAN - such as the Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organisation of American States - have adopted policies and mechanisms to provide access to public information. In Africa, the recent adoption of the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) declaration on 19 September 2011 marks a landmark development for governments and civil society to work together to fulfil the right to information in the continent.
ASEAN must join these regional bodies to promote access to information, especially if it is serious about achieving its aims of good governance and transparency as outlined in its ASEAN Political Security Community blueprint, and increasing engagement and participation of the people under the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community blueprint.
As an initial step, ASEAN should adopt a joint declaration on access to information, to pave the way for integrating international standards of the right to information into ASEAN and the national policies of its member states.
ARTICLE 19, Media Defence South East Asia, Southeast Asian Press Alliance and SAPA Task Force on ASEAN Freedom of Information encourage ASEAN to adopt a declaration that:
- Affirms that everyone has the right to seek, receive, access and impart information and that access to information is a requisite for good governance, transparency and public participation;
- Urges its member states to respect and promote access to public information and to promote the adoption of any necessary legislative or other types of provisions to ensure its recognition and effective application;
- Adopts a right to information policy to disclose public information proactively and upon requests from the public information held by all ASEAN-bodies.
We also encourage the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights (AICHR) to guarantee the right to information and freedom of expression in the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration that is currently being drafted, and undertake a thematic study on access to information among ASEAN member states.