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Sunday, 22 October 2017

The Right to Information in Sudan Workshop (1-2)

The Faculty of Law of the University of Khartoum in cooperation with the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation

and the  Peace and Development National Centre organized on last Wednesday 2 August a very important workshop on the “ The Right of Information in the Sudanese Legal System”. The importance of this Workshop for Development, Transparency, The Rule of Law, Good Governance and Democracy was demonstrated by the wide participation of different segments of the society. They included law academia, lawyers, laws experts; civil society organizations and the media. The president of the Sudanese Lawyers Unions President Al Tayeb Haroun, the Dean of the Sudanese Press Mahgoub Mohamed Saleh and the reputable media experts and forer president of the Sudanese Press Council Prof. Ali Shama was among the participants and made valuable contributions in the workshop. After the opening ceremony four papers were presented and discussed by the participants.

Opening Session

The Faculty of Law have and will always cooperate with the civil society organizations and other institutions on all issues of national nature like the “ Right to access to information”,  said the Faculty Dean in his opening remarks. Adding that such cooperation serve the aims f both the academia  and civil society organizations and the society at large as it opens channels for interaction and exchange of experiences and same time commended the good cooperation between the Faculty and Friedrich Ebert Foundation during the last decades.
While , the National Centre for Peace and Development Director Mr. Alwathig El Berier affirmed the Centre strong support to the workshop theme adding that as a matter of fact the Centre have organized some workshop in the past on this important issue.
On the other hand, Friedrich Ebert Foundation-Sudan Director Mr. Axel Blaschke said that the “Right to Access to Information” is a very important factor in attaining the goals of good governance, rule of law , transparency and accountability and enable civil society organizations to play their role as the Watch-dogs against corruption which is a major obstacle to attaining genuine democracy and development. Adding that Friedrich Ebert Foundation-Sudan have been supporting such activities as part of its mission to support the rule of law , democracy, good governance and just development, and have been doing so for the last more than forty years and will continue to do so.
The Dean of the Sudanese Press Mahgoub  Mohamedd Saleh made a very important and informative intervention in the opening session. Transparency achieved vide the dissemination of solid reliable information by the media have a direct effective impact on good governance, democracy and accountability and also allow citizens informed participation in the administration of their affairs, he said.
Then added that the most deadly sin a state can commit is to conceal  or put obstacles in the means by which the media and citizens can have access to public information. In such cases it will not be able to learn from neutral sources the degree of the performance of the different organs of governance and discover the areas in which there may be corrupt practices. In short, lack of access to information make accountability and monitoring the expenditure of public funds almost an impossible task.
Mr. Mahgoub commended the role played by African journalist since the middle of the last century  in the promotion of freedom of expression and information, this playing a vital role in advancing the principles and values of good governance, democracy, accountability , the rule of law , transparency and accountability.
He stressed on two important documents , the first the “Declaration of Windhoek”. The Declaration of Windhoek is a statement of free press principles as put together by newspaper journalists in Africa during a UNESCO seminar on “Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press” in Windhoek, Namibia, from 29 April to 3 May 1991. The Declaration of Windhoek was endorsed by UNESCO's General
Conference at its twenty-sixth session (1991)..This declaration was a landmark development in the freedom of the press in Africa and lead the ground for future development.
The second was the Maputo (Mozambique) Declaration (3 May 2008,) which Call on Member States: To foster the free flow of information through policies founded on the four key principles of inclusive knowledge societies: freedom of expression, equal access to quality education, universal access to information, and respect for cultural diversity;
To vigorously implement commitments to freedom of expression through a legal and regulatory environment that respects press freedom and independence, and enables media diversity;
To recognize access to information as a key contribution to the effectiveness of development aid, both from the donor and recipient countries’ perspectives;
To provide legal guarantees for the right to information which reflect the principles of maximum and facilitated disclosure, protection of whistleblowers, limited scope of exceptions, independent appeals mechanisms and strong proactive disclosure rules, as well as to ensure proper implementation in practice of these guarantees;
To ensure that public bodies respect the principles of open government, transparency, accountability and public access to information;
To promote broad awareness of legislation and of policies on access to information held by public bodies, among civil servants and officials as well as by the media and the general public;
To foster an environment in which new communication and information technologies are used to narrow the digital and knowledge divide in developing countries and to provide a plurality of media options and access to news;
To prevent measures that hinder freedom of expression on Internet, particularly website censorship;
To include information and media literacy in school curricula and promote such skills to ensure greater public access to information useful in peoples’ daily lives through Internet and other IT resources and thus enhance citizens’ participation in public debate;
To create an environment which promotes the development of all three tiers of broadcasting and, in particular, to improve conditions for the development of community media and for the participation of women within the community media framework.
To abolish insult laws that imposes drastic restrictions and penalties on journalists.
Mr. Mahgoub concluded by that it was the African journalists who proposed to the UNESCO the adaptation of the 28 of September of every year to be the World Day for the Freedom of Information and which was later adapted by the United Nations General Assembly and became since 2016 an official world day. Adding that he hopes that all the stakeholders participating in the workshop and beyond would prepare well for this day next month to promote the freedom of information in Sudan.

 Freedom of expression and transparency (of which freedom of information is the base ) are  two sides of one coin. Freedom of information essentially entails the right to know. The legislation concerning freedom of information contains rules which guarantee access to documents, mainly in relation to documents from governmental institutions. A request can be made for government-held data, to be received freely or at a minimal cost, and this process is subject to restrictions that differ from country to country. In a modern democracy, access to public information is essential for citizens to be properly informed. The majority of public information is in the hands of the state, formed, collected and processed using public resources, which makes it a public possession.
However, freedom of information does not mean the brute access to information alone, such as documents or records in whatever form. When making a claim for transparency, these claims have to be couched in the right to know, as a democratic right. Certain difficulties arise here, since it must be defined what democracy accepts as justifiable and unjustifiable claims.71 Access to documents will be denied when compelling public or private interests are at stake.
Many national authorities have also implemented a right of access to documents, which are held by the government. On an international level, little legislation or articles guarantee this freedom expressly. In general, most treaties have implemented this right of access in their articles which hold freedom of expression, or they have dealt with this right under their articles on privacy. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration.
Nowadays, there are still different approaches towards this issue. Often, the Courts balance both rights: the interest of the public right to know is being weighed against the interests of the individual in maintaining his privacy.86 The drawbacks are obvious: the test is vague and the results are unpredictable. In a different approach, both freedoms are being considered as being on one line. Privacy and freedom of information do not necessarily have to constitute opposites; they can also complement each other. Individuals have the right to know so they can form opinions and ideas, especially when the information held back contains data about their own personal life, as was the case in Gaskin where keeping back information could constitute a violation of their privacy.