On 8-11th of May, 2009 Internation conference "Freedom of Internet at Caucasus Region" took place in Georgia. The conference was organized by National Secirity Archive of the USA and Tbilisi State University.
Representatives of organizations working in the field of development of freedom of information from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia and the USA attended the workshops. Meetings were held in two days. There were presentations in Telavi and Tbilisi, at Archive administration of Ministry of Internal Affairs. The participants included lawyers and attorneys, which discussed court cases, journalists, which spoke about the laws related to freedom of information, academic researchers, who took part in working on laws related to freedom of information. There were people who declared that they had problems to access the archives.
By that time all the countries had promulgated the law about freedom of information. This law came into force in 1999 in Georgia, in 2003 - in Armenia, and in 2005 - in Azerbaijan. Russia was the last which issued a law in January 2009. However, implementing the law was kind of difficult. For example, Azerbaijani Government took all the recommendations proposed by non-governmental organizations into consideration, which resulted improved legislation, but it did not cause openness of government and better access to public information.
Due to solve the problems, the necessity of creating joint strategy and effective network became the issue of the agenda. The The meeting covered the issues of Soviet influence at representative countries. Citizens did not have access to information and the vast majority of the population does not know about the Law on Information. The regional public officers do not have information about their obligations. Therefore it is important to plan educational activities for raising the awareness of the society.
Despite of the fact, that the texts of the law are quite good (better that the version offered to European convention), implementation is extremely bad in comparison with international standards. One of the reasons can be that members of the community did not address to the court, despite the fact that they get negative answers from public institutions about requesting public information. There are several successful case of court appeals, for example in Armenia.
As for Azerbaijan, the legislation ensures criminal or administrative responsibility in case of refusing releasing of public information. However there was no decision which imposed responsibility on someone for limiting the right to access the public information. The participants of the workshop talked about achievements of the non-governmental sector in issuing the law on freedom of information. Civil society organizations in Russia conducted intensive legislative and educational work. Active requesting of public information from government officials resulted improved legislation. The law in Armenia was issued after active campaign and Georgia was the first country in Caucasus, which promulgated the law about freedom of information under the pressure from society.
During the discussions speakers discussed relationships between government and those civil society organizations which support freedom of information. According to Georgian and Russian representatives, the best approach will be the combination of direct challenging and cooperation in order to “Make ourselves Useful for bureaucrats". Particular recommendation which helps public institutions to establish the standards of informational transparency at their websites. It is also important to conduct different educational activities, delivering workshops and trainings regularly in order to pay attention to the case law related to the releasing public information.
During the last brainstorming session of conference the participants highlighted the necessity of sharing experience. Georgian representatives expressed their will to establish organization, which aimed to support development of freedom of information. They also planned to create Caucasus regional center in future. The solutions included to create formal website, which will ensure conducting online discussions on different issues. Organizers initiated publishing conference materials in the journal of Archive administration of Ministry of Internal Affairs “Archival Matsne”.
On the final day of conference, the participants were invited archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They had opportunity to get familiar with the documents of Soviet period (1930-1980). Archive of Ministry of Internal Affairs is archive of the central committee of Georgian communist party (President’s archive, Security Committee archive and Archive of Ministry of Internal Affairs). Georgian partners managed to collect and store the documents. After ensuring the seucirty of the documents, archive specialists started to digitalize documents for making it public for society. It resulted that Georgian archives are one of the most open and transparent in post-Soviet space.
Leadership of Archives delivered presentations about collections and document histories and asked all of the conference participants for further research. In the framework of the workshop, the action plan was prepared in order to take joint actions for solving the problems related to freedom of information on regional level.
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