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UN Transparency Urged at Info Commissioners Meeting

Source: Freedominfo.org

Date: 5 October 2011

The United Nations “doesn’t know what freedom of information means,” said opening speaker Stephen Lewis at the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners Oct. 4 in Ottawa, Canada.

“Everything is shrouded in secrecy,” Lewis said, saying, “You can’t get the most fundamental information” about what is happening within the UN which “doesn’t know what freedom of information means.”

Financial detail about UN operations is not available upon request, he said, saying the UN does not operate under an assumption that there should be an obligation to disclose information.  Speaking about assaults on women in the Congo and UN efforts there, he observed that “if you tried to gather the detail” on the UN strategy “you’d never get it.”  Lewis observed, “It would be a revelation if we saw the communication, or the absence of communication around these extraordinary realities.”

The UN wants to enshrine access to information as a human right for countries, but not itself, he said. Lewis is now visiting professor at Ryerson University and former Canadian diplomat who was involved many international negotiations.

He reviewed the history of access to information as a human right through Article 19 and the growing reference to human rights in international dialogue. Lewis said that “disclosing information is such a vital component of a functional democratic order.” Lewis observed, “I’ve never understood this obsession with secrecy.” He said, “There is so much to be said for disclosing almost everything.”

Lewis also commented that there now is “a tremendous obsession with secrecy in the Canadian governmental apparatus.”