STATEMENT ON THE COMMEMORATION OF INTERNATIONAL RIGHT TO KNOW DAY

GENDER ACTION TEAM (GAT)

                          C/O African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)

Zoe Tembo Building–Kerr Sereign, The Gambia – Tel: 00 220 4462340/4462338 

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STATEMENT ON THE COMMEMORATION OF INTERNATIONAL RIGHT TO KNOW DAY

Today the 28th of September, International Right To Know Day will be commemorated throughout the world. In this regard, we the undersigned civil society organizations are issuing this statement which will be delivered to the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure to commemorate the day.

Access to information is recognized as a fundamental human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. It is an effective tool to ensure transparency in governance and holding a government accountable. Information is power which can provide people with the knowledge to demand their rights, such as their right not to be detained without trial.

To enable the people to exercise their right to access information effectively a freedom of information law should be enacted. This law will place an obligation on the government to store and organize information in a way that makes it easily accessible to the public, to provide information proactively and to respond positively to request for information.

The Gambia has no freedom of information law and therefore the government is not obliged to provide information to the public upon request. This makes it difficult to hold the government accountable or for it to operate in a transparent manner as required by Section 214 (5) of the Constitution of The Gambia, 1997 which states “The Government, with due regard to the principles of an open and democratic society, shall foster accountability and transparency at all levels of Government”.

The Ministry of Information has given indication of its intention to pursue the enactment of a freedom of information law. We wish to urge the government to give this move due regard so that the citizens can benefit from a transparent government.

We also wish to take this opportunity to call on government institutions and other public bodies that are obliged by law to make proactive disclosure to ensure they comply with the letter and spirit of the law. This is particularly important when it comes to public procurement.

Furthermore, we wish to invite the government to consider including a provision making access to information a fundamental right when reviewing the Constitution of the Gambia. Such a provision will be in line with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Article 62 of the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights puts a monitoring mechanism in place by requiring each member state to submit a report to the Commission on the legislative or other measures taken with a view to giving effect to the rights and freedoms recognised and guaranteed by the Charter. The former government of the Gambia has not submitted any report for 22 years. We call on the present government to start submitting reports to the African Commission on Human and People’s Right without delay.

Access to information is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold government to account, and to enter into informed dialogue about decisions which affect their lives. It is seen as vital for empowering all citizens, including vulnerable and excluded people, to claim their broader rights and entitlements. We are fully aware that the willingness of government to be transparent, as well as the ability of citizens to demand and use information are essential for any access to information framework and we do hope that the government will take this into account as it proceeds to enact a freedom of information law.

The people have a right to know.

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PS: The Gender Action Team (GAT) is a national local advocacy and lobby group established and coordinated by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) to engage with partners for the promotion, protection and observance of human rights in general and gender related issues.

Hon. Demba A. Jawo, Min. of Information and Communications Infrastructure (6th from left) with GAT members