All-Ukrainian Forum to mark the International Right to Know Day draws a crowd

Kyiv, 28 September 2015 – The Ukrainian Ombudsperson's Office in cooperation with UNDP Ukraine and the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors in Law Enforcement (UMDPL) hosted the all-Ukrainian Forum to mark the International Right to Know Day.

12022530 1041162442571429 6504128650310979410 oSince its start in 2002, the International Right to Know Day is aimed to raise global awareness of individuals' right to access public information and promote access to information as a fundamental right. Over 80 countries have access to information legislation and more countries are developing such laws. Around the world, the International Right to Know Day's events include conferences and panel discussions, workshops and seminars, tabling special reports and studies on access to information issues.
12000911 1041161419238198 4463381633674001230 oOver 120 representatives of ministries and state agencies, as well as civic activists and journalists gathered at the Forum, titled "Right to Know. Transparency of Authorities: Challenges and Achievements," to promote the right of access to public information for all people as well as openness and transparency of law enforcement bodies.

Addressing the audience in her opening speech, UNDP Senior Programme Manager in Ukraine Yuliya Shcherbinina noted that the monopoly on information is more dangerous than the economic monopoly, because society is denied the right for opinion.
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The podium discussion lined up an amazing list of top-level experts to reflect on the main problems in the area of access to public information in Ukraine and other countries, while Andriy Kulykov, leading Ukrainian journalist and media expert, moderated the conversation.
12038746 1041162255904781 6750624480444759092 oGergana Jouleva, Access to Information Programme Foundation Executive Director from Bulgaria, where the law was introduced in 2000, delivered a brief analysis on the genesis of developing guarantees to access information in the country.
"In Bulgaria, the International Right to Know Day is marked by the award ceremony of public authorities - four awards for contribution to the development of access to public information, and two awards for the most absurd decisions refusing to provide information. We use all available channels to spread information about the right of access to information, knowledge, and experience. Society needs information, therefore it should be given," Ms. Jouleva said.
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In her turn, Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska underlined: "In Ukraine, there are many problems in the area of access to public information, because, first of all, public authorities are not ready to open information. However, disclosure of information is the best guarantee for the fight against corruption. If the community has information on the actual use of public funds and state purchasing, then the fight against corruption will hit a new level of quality."
11246698 1041162632571410 8696596375939541235 oMoreover, the Ukrainian Ombudsperson stressed that the problem of authorities' failure to provide relevant information will be addressed by the Office of the Ombudsperson in cooperation with civic monitors in the framework of the Ombudsman Plus model supported by UNDP Ukraine. It is a joint parliamentary and civic control system with the participation of the Office of the Ombudsperson and "pluses" – civic monitors. Such system is already successfully implemented in the field of prevention of torture and ill-treatment in places of deprivation of liberty, where civic activists participate in monitoring visits as part of the National Preventive Mechanism agenda.
12052347 1041162699238070 4407872565092150406 o"I believe it is impossible to solve all existing problems and be effective without the participation of civil society," Ms. Lutkovska emphasized.
Speaking about the parliamentary openness, Ukrainian MP Olha Chervakova, First Deputy Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Freedom of Speech and Information Policy, noted that this year the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine made progress toward the goals of openness. She provided examples of positive developments in terms of parliamentary transparency.
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Commenting on violations in the area of access to public information, Head of the Centre for Political Studies and Analysis Viktor Taran said that local government bodies have not yet adopted procedural decisions that would regulate the issue of the presence of the public during local sessions and meetings. "Therefore, applicants' requests on the decisions taken during the meetings are not answered at all, or answered not on the merits, or met with demand for payment for printing materials," Mr. Taran noted.
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Director of the Media Law Institute Taras Shevchenko said that the topic of the right to know, that is the right to information, will be relevant for many years, because the theme of transparency has only recently begun to develop rapidly in Ukraine. The expert called on the Verkhovna Rada to join the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a set of shared principles on the openness, transparency, and accessibility of parliaments that has been already supported by more than 140 organizations from over 75 countries.
IMG 8716In her presentation, Iryna Kushnir, Representative of the Ombudsperson for drafting constitutional appeals and observance of the right of access to public information, stressed that access to public information is the key to the effective fight against corruption as well as democracy and freedom of speech in Ukraine. Since its adoption in 2011, the legislation on access to public information has ensured direct access to information from the source. However, according to Ms. Kushnir, its actual implementation is still problematic, which creates a large number of complaints to the Ombudsperson's Office and results in administrative sanctions to officials who refused to provide timely information for particular inquirers.
12079946 1041162219238118 374242412629405941 oDuring the Forum, the report of Uliana Shadska from UMDPL provoked lively discussion among participants. The expert presented the main findings of UNDP-supported nationwide monitoring compliance of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine with the right to access public information.
"According to the findings of monitoring, there are a number of positive changes compared to past years. Requests were responded mostly within the time period specified in law, fewer refusals to grant public access to information were provided. However, not all units provided responses. Some answered requests only partially, while others provided data that does not meet the requested information," Ms. Shadska summarized.
Among recommendations for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the expert focused on importance to disclose information, as the quality provision of information to the public via modern electronic and other resources is one of guarantees of transparency and openness.
During the Forum, representatives of national, regional, and local authorities together with civic activists and the Ombudsperson shared their experiences and outlined main directions of further cooperation to ensure the development in the area of access to public information.