Michael Georg Link
Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR)
Access to information should be seen as a fundamental human right: it can assist in combating corruption and enhancing transparency across national and local governments’ communications with their citizens.
A more open approach undoubtedly improves the state-individual relationship. For example, citizens must be able to find out the information governments store about them; about the aftermath of pollution incidents or industrial accidents; and the decisions that courts have rendered. While countries and governments should be instrumental in driving this agenda forward, it is clear that international organisations can play
a leading role.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) assists participating states across the OSCE region – in Europe, North America and Central Asia. Through its programmes supporting democratisation, human rights and the rule of law, it is at the forefront of efforts to improve best practices in these areas. In September 2012, ODIHR hosted a Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw, where it highlighted measures to promote free access to information held by governments. In April 2015, the organisation hosted a conference in Vienna, where 25 OSCE participating states discussed the participation of associations in public decision-making processes at the Civil Society Forum. At a similar conference in February 2015, ODIHR, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Armenia and the OSCE office in Yerevan, hosted a conference to improve the transparency and accessibility of the policy and legislative planning process, where participants exchanged views on how best to involve policy-makers, law-makers, the public and relevant experts in the legislative process.
In April 2015, Kazakhstan requested that the OSCE provide its legal expertise on the draft law on access to information. In recent years, the Mazhilis (lower chamber) of the Parliament of Kazakhstan has been drafting a new Law on Access to Information. The OSCE/ODIHR previously contributed to this process by issuing Opinions on drafts of the law, in 2010 and 2012. In its latest Opinion, ODIHR notes that the new draft law constitutes an improvement on these earlier draft versions, and also incorporates a number of ODIHR’s previous recommendations, including the creation of an Information Commissioner.
The EBRD, through the work of its Legal Transition Programme (LTP), has devoted time and effort to strengthening legal frameworks for the enforcement of contracts, including by building capacity in court systems. I understand that while conducting such projects the EBRD has found that in many countries judges and lawyers have difficulty in searching for and obtaining copies of judicial decisions. As a result, case law lacks uniformity. Further, the inscrutability of jurisprudence frustrates the efforts of local and foreign investors to understand and manage legal risk. Despite all these obstacles, it is encouraging to hear that the EBRD has identified a strong trend among most of its countries of operations towards more open access to information, including a more systematic publication of judicial decisions.
This edition of Law in transition online looks at recent initiatives and developments to improve the environment for access to information in Cyprus, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan, as well as providing information on regional and global assessments in that sector. These materials provide an excellent platform to debate issues of openness and transparency in government institutions and the key role civil society and international organisations play in these developments.