Leaked Document Describes IAEA Transparency Proposal

24 April 2015

The veil has been lifted slightly on a secret 19-year-old transparency policy at International Atomic Energy Agency.

Freedominfo.org/Nuclear Vault has obtained, from a non-Agency source, the proposal made in 1996 by the Secretariat to the Board of Governors for a more liberal disclosure policy.

The Board did adopt a derestriction policy, but the policy has never been disclosed. (See FreedomInfo.org/Nuclear Vault report on IAEA transparency.) Some observers said the policy has never been fully implemented.

The eight-page proposal is dated Feb. 15, 1996, and titled “Proposal for the Derestriction of Board Documents.” The language of the proposal is similar to a one-line description of the policy provided previously by an IAEA staffer – the disclosure of “most” Board documents after two years. However, the final policy may not be identical to the proposal.  The IAEA has not yet replied to a request for clarification.

The Secretariat’s proposal suggests a variety of motivating factors.

It points out that the classification categories being used at the time – “RESTRICTED Distr.” and “For official use only” – “have never been defined and are subject to differing interpretation.” It also notes that “the trend within the United Nations generally, as within the Agency, is towards greater transparency.” Further, the proposal says that Member States handle IAEA documents domestically in accordance with national criteria and thus “no doubt exercise different degrees of restrictiveness.”

The Secretariat’s suggested disclosure regime provides substantial grounds for withholding documents, including “any other documents specified by the Board.”

It states:

  1. In the light of the foregoing, it is proposed that, with the exception of the annual Safeguards Implementation Report, documents relating to deliberations of the Board in closed session, documents to whose distribution there is a legal impediment and any other documents specified by the Board, documents of the Board and its Committee be derestricted two years after the year in which they were issued, all such documents issued in or before 1993 being derestricted with immediate effect, all such documents issued in 1994 being derestricted with effect from 1 January 1997, etc. It is further proposed that documents subject to the exception provided for earlier in this paragraph be derestricted by the Board at a later date if the Board decides, in light of information provided by the Secretariat, that the grounds for maintenance of the restriction no longer exists.”

The proposal further specifies six document “series” to be covered by the policy, such as “GOV/DEC/…” An Appendix lists 24 committees affected.

The IAEA does not have an Agency-wide disclosure policy laying out procedures for requesting documents and standards for determining what to release.

Transparency Policy History Described

The document provides insights into Agency transparency history.

It recalls that there was a time when some Board and committee documents, marked “PARTICIPANTS only,” were not made available to all Member States.

A footnote describes a progressive change in the Board’s rules to permit more access and involvement by Member States not on the 35-member Board.

Another footnote indicates that the IAEA handled requests for access to documents by referring requesters to the competent authority in the Member State.

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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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