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12 European Countries Sign First International Convention on Access to Official Documents

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Press Release -Freedominfo.org, 19-06-2009

On June 18, 2009, 12 of 47 member-states of the Council of Europe signed the Convention on Access to Official Documents, making history as the "first international binding legal instrument that recognizes a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities."

The 12 member-states that signed the Convention are Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, and Sweden. All members of the Council of Europe are free to sign on to the Convention in the future, but several key states face difficulties aligning their own access laws to conform with even the minimum standards set by the convention itself.

Now the 12 signatory states must ratify the Convention, and 10 ratifications are required for the Convention to come into effect. Slovenia has already introduced the Convention into its legislative agenda and plans to ratify the optional expansion of the Convention’s scope to include its legislative and judicial bodies.

The Convention has been the subject of intense scrutiny and criticism by the access-to-information community. Some of the major flaws in the treaty include:

  • Failure to include legislative and judicial bodies under the mandatory scope of the convention.
  • Absence of a mandated appeals or oversight body with the ability to compel government agencies to disclose information
  • Failure to include certain key categories of information (financial information, procurements) for proactive dissemination by the government
  • Lack of time limits for processing requests

Still, civil society organizations, such as Article 19, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and Access-Info, have urged ratification because the Convention sets legally binding, minimum standards for access to information. Access-Info has publicized the Convention through its "Recognise My Right" Internet campaign. The website provided contact information for the foreign ministries of all 47 member-states of the Council of Europe, urging people to petition directly to their governments to sign the treaty.

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