Our Voices

Access to Information Day: A gift from Africa to the world

Today, September 28, we celebrate the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) thanks to the commitment, determination and persistence of African civil society organizations. This year’s International Day focuses on the challenges and opportunities of accessing information in a digital world. Tomorrow, we will be hosting the panel “Protection of Digital Rights through strategic litigation: what’s next?” at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa.

On 15 October 2019, the 74th United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution proclaiming 28 September as the IDUAI. As Reyhna Masters describes it, “it was a champagne moment for the collective of African civil society organisations under the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) banner that had worked with effort and passion towards this goal for over a decade.” Four years earlier, APAI successfully lobbied the UNESCO General Conference to adopt a resolution declaring this day as IDUAI. Since then, civil society organizations have kept moving the needle forward in many aspects of this right, including its digital dimension (take a look at comments to the recent landmark decisions from the Economic Community of West African States [ECOWAS] Community Court on the Twitter ban case and the Amnesty Togo case).

This year’s global celebration focuses on artificial intelligence, e-governance and access to information. When addressing the role of technology as it relates to human rights, we’ve often heard it be referred to as a ‘double-edged sword’. We are witnessing impressive technological developments that have the potential of improving people’s lives and boosting economies, while at the same time “experiencing how digital tools can be turned against [us], exposing [us] to new forms of monitoring, profiling and control.” While artificial intelligence for example, might enable quicker and broader sharing of information and ideas globally, at the same time, the opacity of its algorithms risks the individual’s autonomy and agency. Artificial intelligence can recommend news articles to readers, where to go, eat, shop, sleep, who to friend and follow, while companies and governments know which articles you read, where you eat, shop and who your friends are. Guaranteeing robust access to information can go hand in hand with ensuring and protecting the right to privacy and the whole spectrum of human rights. Finding this balance is key to managing new digital threats.

Today is also the first day of this year’s Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), which since its inception has coincided with IDUAI commemorations, and which has “endeavored to create awareness about access to information offline and online and its connection to wider freedoms and democratic participation.” Where democracy and the rule of law prevail, Governments stay accountable to their citizens through a variety of mechanisms. Too often, however, “accountability is a chimera” with each head requiring an innovative approach. Strategic litigation is a key approach for protecting digital rights, and keeping governments accountable. RFK Human Rights together with Unwanted Witness, a leading digital rights organization based in Uganda, and the International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine are hosting a session during #FIFAfrica22 to discuss the future of strategic litigation for digital rights within and outside Africa.

To participate in this panel register here for FIFAfrica 2022. As this session will be held virtually, please register as a virtual participant and add the panel to your agenda here. Also, find the zoom link for the panel here.

To learn more about the panel read the concept note.