Friday, August 31, 2007

Urgent Action re Council of Europe Treaty on Access to Docs

fyi: FOI = freedom of information

There are sign-up letters for Civil Society, NGOs, and individuals.

*From:* Helen Darbishire []
*Sent:* Tuesday, August 28, 2007 8:18 PM
*Subject:* [foianet] Urgent Action re Council of Europe Treaty on Access
to Docs.
*Importance:* High

Madrid, 28 August 2007


*Dear FOI Advocates*

*Access Info Europe*, *Article 19 *and the *Open Society Justice
Initiative *are today launching a campaign to call for the future
European Convention on Access to Official Documents, currently in
preparation by the Council of Europe, to meet international standards
and to ensure adequate protection of the right to information.

*We are urging all FOI Advocates around the world to join the campaign
through a sign-up letter (attached) and other actions (listed below).*

*The problem*: If the current draft of the Convention is adopted it will
become the world’s first treaty to guarantee the right of access to
information but it will fall below prevailing European and international
standards, thereby flying in the face of the enormous progress made in
the past several years. The final drafting session will take place in
Strasbourg during 9-12 October 2007.

The future Convention will establish a right to request “official
documents”, which are broadly defined as all information held by public
authorities, in any form. On the positive side, the Convention will
establish that the right to “official documents” can be exercised by all
persons with no need to demonstrate a particular interest in the
information requested, and at no charge for filing requests and viewing

However, the draft treaty has a number of serious flaws :

*1. *Failure to include all official documents held by legislative
bodies and judicial authorities within the mandatory scope of the treaty;

*2. *Failure to include official documents held by natural and legal
persons insofar as they perform public functions within the mandatory
scope of the treaty;

*3. *Failure to specify certain basic categories of official
documents, such as those containing financial or procurement
information, that must be published proactively.

*4. *Absence of a guarantee that individuals will have access to an
appeals body which has the power to order public authorities to disclose
official documents.

*5. *Absence of a guarantee that individuals will be able to appeal
against violations of the right of access other than "denial" of a
request (such as unjustified failures to provide access in a timely
fashion or in the form preferred by the requester).

*6. *Lax drafting of exceptions that permit withholding of official
documents under the internal deliberations and commercial interest

*a. *There are no time limits on the application of the internal
deliberations exemption; such documents may be withheld indefinitely,
even after a final decision on the matter has been taken;

*b. *The treaty should protect only “legitimate commercial
interests,” not all and any “commercial interests,” as in the present

*7. *Absence of a requirement that states set statutory maximum
time-limits within which requests must be processed.

More analysis of these problems can be found in the attached documents.

The final drafting session in Strasbourg starts on 9 October 2007. We
need to take action now to convince governments of the 47 member
states of the Council of Europe to insist on improvements to the draft
Convention before it is finalized. We plan to use International Right to
Know Day, 28 September 2007, to highlight these concerns.

*ACTION: **Attached is a sign up letter to the drafting group**. *We
are aiming for as many signatures as possible from NGOs (civil society
groups) and individuals across Europe and around the world by 28
September. You can sign up by writing to me (
), or to the e-mail address . The deadline for
signing is 17 hrs CET (5 pm) on Wednesday 26^th September, so that we
can release it to the media for coverage on 28th September.

Please encourage other NGOs to sign as well. All human rights and other
civil society groups should care about this issue and are welcome to
sign the letter. Interested individuals can also sign. A copy of the
letter and a sign-up link can be found on the home page of Access Info: , along with more

A copy of the draft treaty can be found via a link on the Access Info
home page.

* *

*The attached document gives a list of WHAT YOU CAN DO and these ideas
are copied below. These actions are mainly for people in the 47 Council
of Europe member states, but others are welcome to do whatever they can
to support the campaign: this treaty will have a global relevance!! *

* *

*/Access Info Europe (Helen Darbishire and Eva Moraga) is coordinating
the campaign, liaising with Article 19 (Daniel Simons) and the Justice
Initiative (Sandra Coliver, Darian Pavli and Eszter Filippinyi). Please
contact any of us to discuss what action you can take! Here are some
ideas: /*

* *

• */Contact your representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe/*: Every Council of Europe member state sends
parliamentarians to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
(PACE). If possible, meet with your country’s representatives and call
on them to raise the issue in the next session of the Parliamentary
Assembly in Strasbourg.

The national delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly are listed here

• */Get the support of other NGOs/*: Translate information about the the
problems with the Convention into your language and distribute it to
other civil society groups: encourage them to sign the letter. This
issue is relevant to human rights groups, environmentalists, consumer
groups, women’s and youth groups … anyone who needs information should
care about this issue!
• */Spread the word/*: Let other interested communities know about the
issue and call on them to take action and disseminate the news:
archivists, librarians, bloggers, and academics (such as in faculties of
communication, law, political science, etc) are among the groups of
people who are likely to care about this issue and help raise concerns.
• */Discuss with Information Commissioners/**/:/* If your country has an
Information Commissioner, let them know about this issue and discuss
what joint actions you might be able to organise, such as a public
debate of the right to information. In other countries it is possible
that Data Protection Commissioners and Human Rights Ombudspersons would
be interested in the issue and ready to participate in public
discussions or talk to members of government.
• */Write to your government/*: Write to your Head of Government
(President or Prime Minister as appropriate) and the Ministers of
Justice and Foreign Affairs and call on them to urge their
representatives at the Council of Europe to take action to press for the
treaty to meet the minimum standards. Get as many national NGOs as
possible to sign the letter to your government.
• */Brief the politicians/*: Try to meet with government representatives
to explain the issues to them – find out what their opinion is and if
they will support the call for a strong treaty.
• */Try for a parliamentary resolution/*: Brief parliamentarians and,
where possible, urge them to adopt a resolution calling for the treaty
to meet minimum standards (declarations of support from political
parties could also be helpful).
• */Brief the media/*: Tell journalists (especially those who write
about access to information) about the problems and get them to write
stories: ask them to ask the government what it is doing to ensure the
treaty meets the highest standards. Let the media know that on September
28, International Right to Know Day, there will be news about how many
groups have signed the NGO letter as well as about actions taking place
all across Europe.
• */Right to Know Day Special Actions/*: On 28 September, in addition to
your regular Right to Know Day activities, take some special action to
promote awareness of the Council of Europe treaty problem. Keep an eye
on the Access Info Europe website for the latest news on what groups are
doing around Europe and how many NGOs have signed the joint letter.

_Countries with representatives on the Groups of Specialists _are
Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway,
Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and United

_Other countries may participate in the discussions_ – Slovenia was one
such participant in the July 2007 drafting session. Since all 47 Council
of Europe member countries have a representative in Strasbourg, it may
be that your government can send this person (or another appropriate
representative such as the Information Commissioner from your country)
to make a contribution to the final treaty drafting session.

*Need more info? *

If you would like to know more about how the process in Strasbourg works
and to discuss what action to take, please feel free to call us:

Access Info tel: +34 91 743 14 73 and ask for Helen or Eva.

Helen mobile : + 34 667 685 319, or via Skype: helen_darbishire.

Helen Darbishire
Executive Director
*Access Info Europe*
calle Principe de Anglona 5, 2c
28005 MADRID - Spain
mobile: + 34 667 685 319 or
Skype: helen_darbishire

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