UNEP Delays Producing Access to Information Policy

25 March 2014

The United Nations Environment Programme has still not produced an access to information policy requested by the Governing Council a year ago.

Instead, an “interim” access policy will begin in April, Executive Director Achim Steiner told the UNEP Committee of Permanent Representatives March 24. He said it will be evaluated after a year. A final policy is promised “no later than April 2015.”

“That is not what the Governing Council mandated,” reacted Lalanath DeSilva, director of the Access Initiative at the World Resources Institute. “UNEP needs to take the reins and boldly issue a progressive policy instead of pussy footing with this. There is plenty of UN experiences around such policies in other UN agencies and UNDP has gone even further and issued a Human Rights and safeguards policy now.”

The Governing Council on Feb. 22, 2013, mandated preparation of a policy “by 2014.” (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) In January, a UNEP spokesman said the policy would be out soon. (See previous freedomInfo.org report.)

Steiner’s statement came as the Governing Council met in Nairobi, Kenya.

No explanation for the delay was given. No draft policy has been issued. These was no indication of whether a public consultation is planned.

The director’s statement provides the outlines of a policy.

The statement says:

 9. UNEP access-to-information policy will contain the following elements:

 (a) As a general principle, UNEP will allow access to any information in its possession, except for the restricted information stipulated in the policy. This will be stated in a policy statement, together with the expression of its commitment to do so.

(b) Primarily, information will be made accessible on UNEP’s website;

(c) As practical illustration of what information would be typically made accessible, a non-exhaustive list of information normally disclosed to the public will be set out in the policy (e.g. annual reports; final form of environment assessment reports; publications and documents for general distribution; programme of work and budget; projects; official documents for governing bodies) ;

 (d) Exceptions listing the type of restricted or confidential information will clearly be stated in the policy (e.g. information received from and sent to third parties with the expectation of confidentiality; information whose disclosure is likely to endanger safety or security of individuals, violate his/her rights or invade his/her privacy; information whose disclosure is likely to compromise security of Member States; information under legal privileges; internal documents, including emails and draft documents);

(e) Procedures for handling information relating to Member States or other entities will be specified;

(f) Under exceptional circumstances, UNEP reserves the right to disclose certain information covered under the exemptions, or to restrict access to certain information that is normally disclosed (for instance, in connection with safety and security issues or emergencies);

(g) Procedures for requesting information that is not found on UNEP’s website will be set out in the policy. Also, procedures for appeal against denial of disclosing information not found on UNEP’s website will be set out.

(h) Institutional arrangements within the UNEP secretariat for overseeing the implementation of the policy will be set out.

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In this column, Washington, D.C.-based journalist Toby J. McIntosh reports on the latest developments in information disclosure in International Financial and Trade Institutions (IFTI).
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