Access Advocates Organize, Raise Support in Paraguay

22 September 2011

By Julia Fernández Cruz

Cruz is a staff member of the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información (Regional Alliance for Freedom of Expression and Information)

The Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información has been supporting, since 2008, the Promoting Group on Access to Public Information (GIAI), a coalition of Paraguayan civil society organizations that promote access to public information, that for years had been struggling for Paraguay to have a Law on the subject. 

In the past, bills were submitted that did not make enough support to pass.  

Unfortunately, this approach loses sight that the lack of a law on access to information severely hinders the right of access by ordinary citizens. Proof of this is that when state institutions have refused to deliver public information and the applicants have decided to go to court, they have had to wait long for a positive result.

At this point in the Supreme Court there´s a case where a person requests information from the municipality in 2007 and was denied, thus violating the Paraguayan constitutional guarantee of right to information in Article 28. The Alianza Regional established an intervention line of strategic litigation on this case to raise awareness about the lack of access to public information in Paraguay. In 2009, the Alianza presented an amicus brief (in Spanish) in which the member organizations participated and prompted the Open Society Institute – Justice Initiative to do the same. Currently the case is waiting for resolution by the Supreme Court.

Since 2008, the GIAI is promoting a new law on access to information, taking into account developments in the region after the verdict in the case of Claude Reyes v. Chile (2006). For this, the GIAI has relied on the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información to prepare a new draft taking into account international experience.

Week of Transparency Celebrated

The Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información summoned the GIAI for organizing this event.

The Week of Transparency began with the Conference “Journalism and Access to Information” on Monday, Sept. 5.

Participating as speakers were:

–       Paraguayan journalist Danilo Arbilla (former president of the SIP – Inter-American Press Association – and former director of the weekly “Búsqueda“);

–       Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Catalina Botero (via videoconference);

–       Sebastian Rivas Vargas, Chilean journalist of the political magazine “Qué pasa?” and

–       Andrés Colmán Gutierrez, president of FOPEP with the moderation of a Paraguayan journalist and lawyer Benjamín Fernández Bogado Paraguay.

The Eleveth Conference on “Regional legislative processes in access to public information” held in the Bicameral Room of the National Congress, had as speakers:

–       Karina Banfi, Executive Secretary of the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información;

–       Moises Sanchez, Executive Director of Pro Acceso – Chile and member of the Alianza Regional; and

–       Salvador Guzmán Zapata, commissioner of the guarantying body on access to information of the state of Morelos, Mexico.

A breakfast meeting with journalists from various media to exchange ideas about the importance of a law on access to information was held, involving the organization IDEA, a member of the Alianza Regional for Paraguay; members of the Promoting Group on Access to Information – GIAI; Moises Sanchez of Chile and the Executive Secretary of the Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información.

The following days continued with conferences in other cities of Paraguay with the participation of Mexican commissioner of the state of Morelos, Salvador Guzmán Zapata, Benjamín Fernandez Bogado, Mexican journalist José Martínez and Ezequiel Santagada, Executive Director of the member organization by Paraguay, IDEA.

Conclusions

During the Week of Transparency, the newspaper ABC Color published a survey for readers of the online edition of the newspaper which asked “Does Paraguay needs to pass legislation guaranteeing access to public information?”, and 89% of almost 7000 participants voted yes.

This reflects how the subject began to permeate in Paraguayan society. In earlier years, ignorance or indifference towards this subject was common.

Also as a result of this activity, it was possible to gain the interest of student of law faculties centers of universities based in Asunción (National University, Catholic University, Autonomous University and American University). They requested copy of the draft Law on Access to Information to be disseminated to students and organize debates for early October.

It would be key to keep the interest of the press and the public, achieved by the Week of Transparency. That will require the commitment of GIAI members to continue having presence in the media and generating events that help visualize the importance of having a FOI law.

The Week of Transparency proved to be a high impact activity.

It really helps the support given to organizations that have maintained a commitment to the promotion of a law of access to information. Just as well, enhancing the stimulus allowed the organizations to promote it.

Paraguay has a great opportunity.

The global community has emphasized their commitments to meet minimum standards of transparency, the law on access to information is a key tool for these processes. Paraguay has an organized society and prepared to achieved this goal.

 

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