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African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, on the Occasion of International Day for Universal Access to Information


28 September 2022

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (The Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Hon. Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, joins the international community in commemorating International Day for Access to Information, which is being observed on 28 September. The Commission takes this opportunity to affirm Africa's commitment, through the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (The African Charter), to advance the right to receive information as a human right in Africa.

The International Day for Universal Access to Information which originated from a meeting of civil society movements in Sofia, Bulgaria on 28 September 2002, advances the importance of greater information transparency. The day invites a commemoration of the ways in which access to information enables the work of defending human rights, restoring trust, and advancing inclusivity in the African society.

Access to information plays a very important role in the development of accountability and responsiveness in ensuring and advancing other human rights. Availability of reliable official data and information, allows for the design of better interventions, and can potentially reduce the deficits in access to other rights, such as those related to participating in government directly or through freely chosen representatives. It empowers citizens to be well informed, and to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes, at all levels. International Day for Access to Information, therefore, creates an opportunity and platform to engage on discussions, at national, regional, and international level, on whether the access to information laws are doing what they were meant to do.

This year’s theme: ‘Artificial intelligence, e-governance and access to information,’ introduces an opportunity for a broad-based discussion on the role and effect of artificial intelligence and e-governance on access to information in Africa.  The Commission, recognizing the need to better understand the legal, ethical, safety and security opportunities and challenges raised by AI, robotics and other new and emerging technologies in Africa, observed in its Resolution ACHPR/Res. 473 (EXT.OS/ XXXI) 2021: on the need to undertake a Study on human and peoples’ rights and artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other new and emerging technologies in Africa, that new and emerging technologies present both opportunities and perils for the promotion and protection of human and peoples' rights in Africa. The Commission further observed that whilst making government services and information digital enhances transparency and accessibility and artificial intelligence allows for a number of benefits in the society, it has to be accompanied by human rights considerations and a bridging of the digital divide.  

On this momentous occasion, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, takes this opportunity to remind State Parties of their obligations enshrined in Article 9(1) of the African Charter as further elaborated in the Declaration of Principles and the Model Law on Access to Information. It is the Special Rapporteur’s aspiration that State parties would consider application of the guidance contained in Resolution in 473, taking note of how AI and e-governance affect access to information. State Parties are encouraged to develop domestic legal frameworks regulating AI and e-governance; ensure these technologies are developed and used transparently; and ensure that imported AI and e-governance systems align with the African Charter.

Recalling the 2019 Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, the Special Rapporteur underscores the importance for States to ensure enjoyment of access to information. She further recalls Principle 39 of the Declaration which enjoins States to ensure that the development, use, and application of artificial intelligence, algorithms and other similar technologies by internet intermediaries are compatible with international and regional human rights and standards, and do not infringe on the rights to freedom of expression and access to information, as well as other human rights.

At a regional level, over the last decade, and notably since the adoption of the Model Law on Access to information by the Commission, in 2013, the legislative landscape on access to information has evolved rapidly and significantly. Many countries on the continent, have laws which anticipate and respond to the challenges associated with the evolving digital citizenship. The Commission commends those States which have, to date, ensured the enactment of such important laws. In the same vein, the Commission encourages countries which are yet to enact these laws, to continue to strongly consider their enactment.

The Special Rapporteur hopes that on this day, African States will reflect on measures to extend greater access to Information to their peoples in order to realize further social, political and economic advancements on the continent.

 

Commissioner Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa