KABUL - Luminaries from Afghanistan’s media, human rights, corruption watchdog sector and other civil society bodies were joined today in Kabul by the UN at an event held at the Presidential Palace to observe the International Day of Universal Access to Information.
Participants highlighted how critical access to information is to societies in terms of accountable government, empowering citizens and building trust. Special emphasis was given to the importance of access to information at times of crisis, such as that presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking about the international context of access to information, Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said, “Timely access to information can be the difference between life and death. Not sharing the information or spreading misinformation takes lives. As we look around the world, we see erosion of public trust in public institutions. We need to reverse the trend. The right to access to information is one of the tools to reverse it.”
Part of the solution to the global crisis caused by COVID-19 is in enhanced access to information. During the current crisis, accurate and timely information makes it possible for citizens to protect themselves and to follow rules concerning travel, schooling and virus testing.
When citizens are able to exercise their right to access information, it results in greater transparency of public policies, benefits good governance, curbs corruption and builds communities’ trust in the work of public institutions.
Recognizing that access to information is the right of every citizen and, according to the law in Afghanistan, any person can seek information from a public office, Second Vice President Sarwar Danish said, “Access to information is one of the foundations and the oxygen of democracy. The president has always emphasised that government functionaries are not owners but guardians of information and if true information is not shared with people, misinformation and rumours will take its place.”
Afghanistan’s Access to Information Law requires that a commission monitors implementation of the law. The commission was established in 2018. The current head of the Afghanistan Access to Information Commission, Ainuddin Bahodury, addressed those gathered to mark the day reminding audiences that, “To tackle corruption in a country, the government must be accountable to the public. Access to information is key to achieving it. Among many efforts, the commission started operating an online system in three languages for anyone to request public information or to complain about any refusal to share such.”
Both UN and government representatives acknowledged the positive role that the Commission has played in improving governmental transparency and enabling citizens to be informed. UN envoy Lyons, who is also head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), reassured participants that the UN will support government efforts to further advance access to information.
The event was organised by the Commission in cooperation with the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, UNESCO and the Presidential Office.
The right to access to information is enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that protects freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, orally or in written form, or through any media.
Recognizing the significance of access to information, the 74th UN General Assembly proclaimed 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the UN level in October 2019.
In line with the article 50 of Afghanistan Constitution, an Access to Information Law was approved in Afghanistan in 2014 and endorsed after the amendment of the president in March 2018.