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Brazil adopts access to information law

Source: article19.org

Date: 22 November 2011

President Dilma Rousseff has signed the Law on the Right to Information, an important step forward in consolidating democracy in Brazil. The law will fully come into effect in 180 days, a short period for all the challenges that need to be faced to fully implement it.

“The right to access information held by the public authorities is a fundamental human right recognised under international law, and only through implementing legislation at the national level can proper effect be given to it,” said Paula Martins, Director for ARTICLE 19 South America.

The implementation of the law will require a national campaign and trainings at the federal level to overcome a culture of secrecy within the public bodies of the executive branch. Legislative and judicial branches are required to create separate regulations in line with the provisions of the law.

The law contains a number of positive features. It includes, among other things, a clear statement of the right of access, tight timelines for responding to requests, absolute openness in relation to information concerning human rights protection and violations, a progressive system for classification of information, and good rules on sanctions for obstructing access.

Despite being a landmark development for the right to information in Brazil, the law still has some shortcomings. ARTICLE 19 has repeatedly emphasised the importance of an independent body to consider appeals against refusals to provide access to information, something the current text fails to establish.

While signing the law, President Rousseff vetoed two provisions. The first was a mandatory notification to the Public Prosecutor’s Office in cases when access to information essential to safeguard human rights is denied. The second one is related to the composition of the Commission for Reassessment of Information, which will probably be set out in a separate regulation including only members from the executive branch.