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Rights to information

Rights to access, review and correct information held by the state are fundamental human rights. For a long time, the right to information was seen as an extension or component of other, more established rights – for example, the right to freedom of expression. In recent years, however, freedom of information has increasingly been recognised as a fundamental human right independent of any other.

 

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Using your rights to demand information from the state

Using rights to demand the disclosure of information held by the state is vital if communities and individuals are to understand and challenge actions that affect their lives. Rights to information can play a decisive role, for example, in

  • uncovering corruption
  • holding corporations and public authorities accountable for their actions
  • ensuring that you are treated fairly by organisations with whom you are dealing
  • upholding your right to a fair trial

It’s also necessary to understand how laws on access to information are actually applied in practice. In some countries it may appear that there are helpful and extensive legal entitlements to information, but in practice people find it hard to get the information that they need, because the practical effect of the laws are undermined by poor implementation or lack of capacity on the part of the authorities. Transparency suffers accordingly.

Sometimes you may find that central public authorities, e.g. those in the state capital or other metropolitan areas, are prepared and equipped to allow access to information in a manner consistent with the applicable legislation, but that public authorities in more remote or rural areas may lack adequate understanding of access rights or the resources to give them effect.

 

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Scope of this guide

This guide focuses on:

  • the principles governing access to information rights in many countries
  • how to request information
  • how to challenge a refusal to provide information that you have requested

Note that this guide does not address the disclosure obligations which arise in the context of litigation and other types of dispute resolution. Nor does it discuss the disclosure obligations triggered when individuals make certain types of applications to public or private bodies.

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