Americas Regional Conference on the Right of Access to Information
The Carter Center
The Carter Center, in collaboration with the Organization of American States, the Andean Juridical Committee, and the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas held the Americas Regional Conference on the Right of Access to Information in Lima, Peru from April 28-30, 2009. The Americas Regional conference served as a follow-up to the Carter Center's International Conference on the Right to Public Information held in Atlanta, Ga., in February 2008, where more than 125 persons from 40 countries convened, representing all the key stakeholder groups, to consider the challenges facing the right of access to information and to explore potential solutions. Both conferences concluded with the issuance of critical findings and plans of action.
Preparing for the Conference
In advance of the conference, The Carter Center consulted widely with government and civil society leaders from the region, as well as representatives from the international financial institutions and OAS to identify the critical issues and gaps that should be addressed in the conference. Through these discussions, agreement was found regarding the three key challenges to the right of access to information in the Americas:
The conference convened more than 100 persons representing all the key stakeholder groups - from 18 countries in the Americas to explore the key issues affecting the right of access to information. The action-oriented conference allowed space for sharing experiences, but with a primary focus on in-depth discussions of challenges, impact and future agenda items. The moment was ripe for a critical examination of the state of the right of citizen access to public information in the Americas. There are increasing calls for a regional convention, with others arguing that this would undermine the decade of gains. After years of concerted effort to advance the right of access to information, half the countries in the Americas have passed legislation while almost all of the remainder are discussing draft bills or are close to promulgating enabling laws. Nevertheless, countries continue to struggle with implementation and backsliding. The regional conference explored the progress and obstacles, considered the benefits and potential drawbacks of a regional convention, and established the next steps in ensuring universal access to information. The conference culminated with the issuance of the Americas Regional Findings and Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right of Access to Information, which serves as a supplement to the global Atlanta Declaration of 2008.
During the first day of the conference, participants reflected on the regional experiences and the state of the right to information in the Americas, including standards and country case studies. Opening sessions saw leaders from the Organization of American States, the World Bank, and the government of Peru discussing the value of the right of access to information and the regional commitment to advancement. In addition, there was a series of plenary panels aimed to answer tough questions such as "Is Transparency Delivering?" and "Is Transparency a Luxury in the Face of Security Threats, Climate Change, and the Global Economic Crisis?"
The second day was dedicated to group work, with the participants strategically placed into five groups. The areas for exploration by these multi-stakeholder groups included four of the same issues considered at the global conference and one new topic:
On the final day of the conference, a plenary was convened for working group reports and to consider a draft regional findings and action plan. Time was provided for country clusters to meet and consider how the action plan may be applied in their country and how they might work together to advance critical points. Plenary sessions on the final day were facilitated by former United States President Jimmy Carter and Vice President of the Inter-American Court for Human Rights Diego Garcia Sayan, and sought consensus for the regional action plan, identified specific actors to advance the recommendations, and considered means of monitoring and reporting on progress.
Follow up Activities
Following the conference, The Carter Center incorporated the substantive comments from dozens of participants into the findings and plan of action. On May 21, 2009, the Center released the final version of the Americas Regional Findings and Plan of Action for the Advancement of the Right of Access to Information. The Regional Findings and Plan of Action has been widely disseminated in both languages, and presently President Carter is sending it with a personalized letter to all regional heads of state in the region and key regional bodies, urging them to adopt the findings and take steps to advance the plan. Finally, The Carter Center will complete a final conference report as well as continue to encourage and monitor the use and implementation of the plan of action.