On September 21-22, IDFI Director Giorgi Kldiashvili and IDFI Programs’ Director Levan Avalishvili participated in the International Conference titled Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of the Right to Information and Further Strengthening of National Systems of the Eastern Partnership held in Kiev, Ukraine.
The event was organized by the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights in cooperation with the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine in the framework of two projects - Strengthening Freedom of Media and Establishing a Public Broadcasting System in Ukraine and Freedom of Media in Ukraine - of Programmatic Cooperation Framework between the European Union and the Council of Europe.
The aim of the Conference was to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the first legal recognition of the “right to know” and review existing problems in the area of access to public information in Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries. The conference resulted in recommendations being elaborated for solving existing problems on legislative and practical level.
International experts from the United Kingdom, Spain, Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia, Germany and Sweden took part in the Conference as well as Members of the Ukrainian Parliament, representatives of foreign embassies, international organizations and more than 20 participants from four Eastern Partnership countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Moldova). In total 150 participants attended the event.
In her welcoming speech the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Valeriya Lutkovska stated that: “corruption cannot be eliminated without civil society participation and openness and transparency of operation of state authorities. The issue of access to public information is intertwined with the European choice of Ukraine.”
Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine Ambassador Hugues Mingarelli stated that: “experts point out a recurring demand for establishing an independent state Information Commissioner or Commission, as the body competent for handling access to public information appeals. Until a new body is established, current competent body for access to information (Ombudsperson) should be further strengthened.”
According to the latest Global Right to Information Rating, Ukraine holds the 19th place, while being in the top ten three years ago. Other countries went far ahead of Ukraine, which has been struggling with improving its legal framework over the last two years. Other Easter Partnership countries scored as follows: Azerbaijan – 11th place, Moldova – 16th, Georgia – 32rd, Armenia – 34th. The RTI rating assesses countries’ legal framework according to 61 indicators.
During the Conference IDFI Director Giorgi Kldiashvili and Programs’ Director Levan Avalishvili both made speeches about the freedom of information in Georgia. Giorgi Kldiashvili spoke about the freedom of information legislation in Georgia, including the problems of its implementation in practice. He also presented the results of IDFI’s monitoring of access to public information. Levan Avalishvili spoke about the existing mechanisms of protecting right to information in Georgia, illustrated their problems with examples from IDFI’s own experience, and presented a solution involving the creation of an independent FOI Commissioner.
The Council of Europe has been a champion of the right to information since as early as 1970s and set a number of standards in this area since then. However, the most significant achievement is the 2009 Convention on Access to Official Documents (the Tromso Convention). Regis Brillat, Special Advisor to Council of Europe's Secretary General for Ukraine stated that the Council of Europe developed the first, and so far the only, binding international legal instrument to recognize a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. Unfortunately, not all Council of Europe member States have signed or ratified the Convention yet, which has prevented it from entering into force. So far, 9 countries have ratified the Convention; the Convention will enter into force as soon as the tenth country ratifies it. Conference participants will consider and recommend practical measures to bring the Tromso Convention into force.
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