True democracy requires access to information: NCHR president

Ahram Online , Thursday 1 Jun 2023

True democracy is one in which information is available because a person “will not be able to have an opinion or obtain any right” unless the information is available to them, President of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) Moushira Khattab said.

From left to right: National Council of Human Rights' (NCHR) member and the workshop rapporteur Ezzat Ibrahim; NCHR's President Moushira Khattab; Head of the NCHR's Civil and Political Rights Committee George Ishak. Photo courtesy of the NCHR media office

Khattab’s statement came during a workshop on “Freedom of Information between Constitutional Entitlement and Challenges,” held earlier this week by the NCHR. The workshop saw the attendance of a large number of concerned parties.

The workshop explored the possibility of issuing legislation that allows freedom of information as one of the constitutional rights stipulated in Egypt’s 2014 constitution and the National Strategy of Human Rights issued in 2021.

In her opening speech, Khattab emphasized that the “NCHR is working to raise awareness of the benefits of passing a freedom of information law” from a human rights perspective, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Chairman of the NCHR’s Civil and Political Rights Committee, George Ishak stated that the proposed law is highly significant.

Egypt does not have a law regulating freedom of access and circulation of information in a manner consistent with international standards for freedom of opinion and expression, he added.

The proposed law responds to national requests for access to information and the ability to use it as a tool for awareness, enhancing transparency, and combating potential corruption, he noted.

“The constitution commits the state to work on legislation in the form of a Freedom of Information Law,” Ishak added.

NCHR member and workshop rapporteur Ezzat Ibrahim said that launching Egypt’s National Dialogue with the participation of all segments of society is an ideal opportunity to push the legislation of the Freedom of Information law to the fore once more.

Article 68 of Egypt’s constitution states that information, data, statistics, and official documents belong to the people; their disclosure from their various sources is a right guaranteed by the state to every citizen, Ibrahim added.

The same article stipulates that the bill regulates the controls for obtaining, confidentiality, and availability of information and determines the penalty for withholding or giving false information, he pointed out.

The National Strategy for Human Rights is based on constitutional entitlement, considering that the lack of a legal framework regulating access to information, data, and official statistics and their circulation, Ibrahim said, “is one of the main challenges to the success of the strategy.”

During the workshop, speeches were given by the Chairman of the NCHR’s Legislative Committee Essam Shiha, former minister of communication and information technology Hany Mahmoud, and member of Parliament Maha Abdel-Nasser. Their speeches tackled the historical development of deliberations on the issuance of this law and the obstacles that encountered its approval.

The speakers stressed the need to seize the crucial opportunity in light of a comprehensive National Dialogue to pass this law.

The National Dialogue, which kicked off on 3 May, is set to discuss in a designated session freedom of information and expression on Sunday, 4 June.

The dialogue is witnessing broad participation from public figures, political forces, civil society groups, as well as professional and labour unions, who discuss key political, economic, and social issues.

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