Inter-American Court Finds Fundamental Right of Access to Information
In the first decision of its kind from an international tribunal, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled yesterday that there is a fundamental human right to access government information.
In the case of Claude Reyes and others vs. Chile, the Court found in favor of three environmental activists who in 1998 sought information from the Chilean government about a controversial logging project. By failing to provide access to the requested information, the Court held that Chile had violated Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of thought and expression.
According to the Court, Article 13 contains an implied right of general access to government-held information, and States must adopt legal provisions to ensure the right is given full effect. The Court specifically ordered Chile to provide the requested information about the Rio Condor logging project or to issue a reasoned decision for withholding it, as well as to adopt adequate administrative procedures to protect the right in the future and to train public officials to uphold the public's right to information.
International advocates of transparency in governance and the right-to-know applauded the precedent-setting court decision. "The Court has ruled that freedom of information is a fundamental personal, social, and civic right, and a critical component of a full transition to democracy," said Peter Kornbluh who directs the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. According to Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, the decision "will be invaluable for activists who need government information to defend other human rights, protect the environment, and fight corruption."