Fighting the ghosts of the past in new democracies: information rights and transitional legacies

10 November 09:00 – 11:00

Session coordinator’s name:
Natalia Torres
Center of Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE).
University of Palermo

Session /Moderators
Natalia Torres
Senior Researcher

Adam Földes
Legal Director
Transparency International Hungary

Ximena Salazar
Topic: Personal data and access to information: tensions in the Chilean case

Edison Lanza
Topic: Access to national security information in Latin America: past and present

Javier Osorio
University of Notre Dame
Topic: One institution, two rights: access to information and personal data at Mexico´s IFAI
Dave Banisar
Article 19
Topic: Transparency and secrecy in the MENA region

Tanti Budi Suryani
Tifa Foundation
Topic: The Indonesian State Secrecy Bill

Inés Selvood
University of Buenos Aires. Unit of Access to Information

Session Description

Freedom of information is highly relevant in uncovering abuses of power, in effectively pressing criminal justice entities to prosecute offences of corruption and in disseminating the failures and successes of fighting impunity. However, legislations do not operate in a vacuum but in a net of institutions, rules and actors. The implementation of AI laws demonstrated that drawbacks arise from the legacy of the past, through the collision of principles with the reality of institutions. Exemptions in acts, especially concerning protection of personal data or national security, and non-democratic practice still present in public administration and courts are exacerbated by living legal legacy of former regimes. Unfortunately, these pre-existent legislations, some of them originated from the pre-democratic era, are generally used by politicians to hide past and present abuses of power. Understanding how AI can be prompted is crucial to promote transparency and achieve lasting changes in transitional societies.

Many countries have a sad and tragic past of dictatorships. The transition to democracy has been long and painful and the legacy of the past appears even in the most unexpected spaces. Effective freedom of information or its absence determine whether a society is given the opportunity to come to terms with its past. Access to information rules set conditions whether abuses of public funds or human rights violations can be uncovered and perpetrators can be held accountable. Public bodies such as information commissioners and courts have crucial role in how far civil society can reach in building transparent and accountable governance. Many countries had advanced in the recognition of the right to know, but access to information (AI) laws both in adolescent and new-born democracies often face challenges arising from the dictatorial legacy remaining in the organizational culture of our states and pre-existent legislation.

We choose to contribute to Plenary IV to show what the role of academics and practitioners can be in reducing the gap between past and present to make transparency a reality in new democracies. Workshop aims to focus on the question what is our role to ensure political transitions lead to fair and transparent governments? We´ll answer this question by highlighting the role of specific institutions (such as Information Commissioners) and legal mechanisms and by describing concrete cases of collusion of rights and harmonization practices.

The workshop objectives are:

To generate knowledge and increase awareness on the tension between the access to information and pre-existent legislation in areas such as personal data or national security

To set principles for the harmonization of these concepts in order to secure transparent new democracies.

Identifying successful and unsuccessful strategies that were applied in various countries in this field.

Identifying risks and opportunities in legislative procedures concerning freedom of information, secrecy and personal data legislations.

Finding good examples of building coalitions, mobilising wide audiences and making deals with unfavourable stakeholders.

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