Tunisia Issues Decree on Access to Documents

11 July 2011

Tunisia has issued a  Decree on Access to Administrative Documents, but the exemptions are “overly broad,” according to an analysis by Article 19.

The decree, adopted in May, has “many positive features,” the London-based freedom of expression group said, but the exceptions “can largely undermine the impact of the Decree in assuring transparency and accountability.”

Article 19 called on the Interim government “to urgently develop and adopt Guidelines clarifying the limited scope of these exceptions in order to assure a progressive interpretation of the Decree, in line with international freedom of expression standards.”

The government also should “develop – as soon as possible – a comprehensive action plan on the implementation of the Decree, in order to assure that the Decree can be made operational within the shortest time possible.”

The decree provides people – regardless of citizenship – with a right to access administrative documents; it requires public authorities to proactively disclose information; it outlines a “satisfactory” procedure for access to information; and it establishes that access to documents is in principle free of charge, Article 19 summarized. 

But the exceptions are too broad and there is no public interest override provision, according to Article 19.

“Furthermore, the implementation of the Decree is not scheduled to take place before a period of two years despite the interim nature of the Decree itself,” observed Article 19.  “The experience from countries in Central and Eastern Europe that also underwent democratic transition shows that this can be achieved in terms of months rather than years.

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