UNESCO recently published Toby Mendel’s The Right to Information in Latin America: A Comparative Legal Survey. The book is organized around the following sections: international standards and trends; features of a Right to Information Regime; 11 Latin American country chapters; and a comparative analysis on the legal and regulatory aspects of the issue. While Mendel’s new volume is a significant and substantial addition to the policy scholarship on this topic, what struck me initially is the boldness of the book’s title.
The title audaciously starts with “The Right to Information…”, in stark contrast with an earlier major publication on the same topic by the same author entitled Freedom of Information: A Comparative Legal Survey, first published by UNESCO in 2003 with a revised edition released in 2008. As I started reading the chapter on international standards, I found that Mendel explicitly states the reason for this:
“In 2003, the idea that the right to information had been internationally recognized as a fundamental human right was a bold claim, and so the claim was phrased somewhat tentatively. This is no longer the case and there is very widespread support for this contention. While there are no doubt those who would dispute this claim, they are flying in the face of history and in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary.
As noted, numerous international bodies with responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights have authoritatively recognised the fundamental human right to access information held by public bodies, as well as the need for effective legislation to secure respect for that right in practice. These include the United Nations, regional human rights bodies and mechanisms at the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe and the African Union, and other international bodies with a human rights mandate, such as the Commonwealth.”
As you can tell from the posts featured on this blog, CommGAP believes that informed public opinion is a critical force in governance, and for public opinion to be informed, it is necessary to have free flows of information and informed deliberation and debate in public spaces. However, if the Right to Information is indeed a right, then it is a matter of institutionalization and enforcement – that is, it must be held up in the courts and implemented by the authorities. Mendel clearly recognizes this requirement, and claims that there is already enough evidence, gleaned globally, to be able to reframe citizen demand for and the provision of public information from “freedom” to “right.” I believe that he brings much normative evidence to bear in this regard from the global and regional levels. I will now read the 11 country chapters with an eye toward implementation at the country level – to get a sense of whether the claim passes empirical muster. More on this next time.