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Claude Reyes et al. v. Chile

last modified Aug 21, 2012 12:09 PM

Case number:
Series C No. 151
Country:
Chile
Date of decision:
19 September 2006
Court / Arbiter:
Inter-American Court of Human Rights ( International / IACHR )

Relevant law :

Decision:

Failure of a state body to disclose information on environmental matters requested by an NGO violated the right of access to state-held information, which is an element of the right to freedom of expression (Article 13 of American Convention on Human Rights).


Keywords:
Environment / Natural resources (including natural resource management, environmental impact)
Freedom of expression (including RTI as element of or integral to)
Open government principles (including accountability, anti-corruption, democracy, participation in government, transparency)
Public interest (including public interest override, information of public interest)

Case details:

Facts

In 1998, Fundacion Terram, an environmental organization, asked the Chilean Committee on Foreign Investment for information on a foreign company seeking to implement a deforestation project that the Committee had approved. Fundacion Terram intended to evaluate the economic, social and environmental aspects of the project, and sought records that the Committee should have collected in its review process (para. 13). The Committee ignored the information requests, Fundacion Terram appealed, and the Chilean Supreme Court declared the appeal inadmissible as manifestly ill-founded (para. 31). Fundacion Terram together with other rights groups submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn lodged an application against Chile with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Decision

The Court for the first time ruled that Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights protects the right of access to state-held information, which encompasses the right of individuals to receive information and the state’s positive obligation to provide it, subject to limited exceptions. An individual or entity seeking information is not required to prove direct or personal interest and, once the information is received, is free to circulate it to the public generally (para. 77). Provision of information is governed by the principle of maximum disclosure (para. 92). States are required to adopt a legal framework that gives effect to the right of access, and to reform secrecy laws and practices (para. 163).

A state may restrict access to information only for the reasons permitted by the Convention (para. 77). Any restriction should (1) be established by law, (2) respond to a purpose allowed by Article 13(3) of the Convention, and (3) be necessary in a democratic society (paras. 88-91). The denial of Fundacion Terram’s request did not comply with any of the listed requirements: there was no legislation in Chile that regulated restrictions on access to state-held information and no proper decision was adopted in response to the request (paras. 94-96).

The Court found a violation of Article 13 (freedom of expression), becoming the first international court to recognize a human right of access to information held by public bodies.

Resources:

More information on the case

Admissibility Decision (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights)

Written comments to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Open Society Justice Initiative)

Referral of case to the Court (in English)

Written comments to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (Open Society Justice Initiative)

Judgment of the Court (in English)