Appeal regarding proposed amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group have addressed an open appeal to Volodymyr Lytvyn, Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, regarding the draft law introducing amendments to the recently adopted Law on Access to Public Information.
They call on Volodymyr Lytvyn to reject plans to introduce amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information since the changes would lead to a reduction in the scope of human rights and run counter to European standards.
“On 13 January 2011 the Verkhovna Rada passed the long-awaited Law on Access to Public Information which included most international standards pertaining to freedom of information. The Ukrainian public and the international community warmly welcomed the adoption of this law which demonstrated the commitment of the Ukrainian government to democratic values.
However without the law even having come into force, there are already proposals to consider a draft law introducing amendments which, in our view, would largely render this achievement meaningless.
The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents from 27 November 2008, the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, the Recommendations of the CE Committee of Ministers on Access to Official Documents from 21 February 2002 establish clear European standards on the public’s access to information.
The proposed amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information do not comply with these standards, at very least with regard to the following:
1. The norm would be removed guaranteeing access to public information regardless of whether the said information concerns the person asking for it. They are instead proposing to include a norm which would oblige the person requesting the information to indicate their reason for making the request. This runs counter to European standards which clearly state that a person requesting an official document does not need to explain the reason why he or she wishes access to the official document. These amendments breach the condition that all information about the authorities’ activities on open access must be provided regardless of whether it concerns the person or not.
2. The proposed amendments would remove the option of making an information request by email, fax, with the requests and responses received being allowed only in written form. This is despite the fact that in the present day sending emails is the most efficient, convenient and swiftest means for seeking and receiving information. Ensuring active access to information in this way in European countries is considered a priority in European countries.
3. Establishing the timeframe for providing a response to an information request to a month, with the possibility of this being extended to 45 days, is not in keeping with international standards and does not promote the enjoyment of the right to receive information via information requests. These timeframes are too long. Analysis of the laws in European countries shows that the average timeframe is 5-10 working days. In the given case reference to the Law on Citizens’ Appeals is untenable since the month period for responding to such appeals is determined by the fact that the relevant body must take certain action aimed at checking the information provided in the appeal and meeting it, whereas an information request requires only sending information about the activities of the authorities.
4. The exclusion is proposed of an important and generally accepted European guarantee providing people with disabilities with access to information. According to this guarantee if a person has a valid reason preventing them from filling out a written request, this can be done for them by the official responsible for answering information requests, with the official obliged to provide his or her name and contact number and give it to the person requesting the information.
Since the aim in adopting the Law on Access to Public Information was to ensure transparency and openness of those in authority and to create mechanisms enabling everybody to have access to public information, UHHRU and KHPG call on Volodymyr Lytvyn to not make the above-mentioned amendments which run counter to Ukraine’s Constitution, European standards and the interests of the Ukrainian public.