UNESCO Adopts Policy Concerning Information

3 May 2017

UNESCO has quietly adopted an access to information policy.

The policy has been up and running since March 1, according to an official from UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

A link to the policy is contained at the bottom of the UNESCO web page, although not on the UNESCO “transparency portal.”

“It exists in French and English and we are working on other languages,” the official wrote FreedomInfo.org. A circular letter to Permanent Delegates to UNESCO was sent out as well, he said. There was no press release on the new policy.

The policy was developed in a closed internal process, despite calls by civic groups for UNESCO to issue a draft policy and hold consultations. (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

Freedominfo.org in August reported on UNESCO’s intention to write a policy. UNESCO had some internal rules on what should be confidential, but no disclosure policy resembling a national FOI law. UNESCO is the UN agency charged with supporting access to information internationally.

New Policy Issued

“The Policy is guided by the presumption that any information concerning UNESCO’s policies, strategies, programmes and operations….,” it states.

The policy describes what information should normally be made available. This includes “The Organization’s main strategy and programme/budget documents,” UNESCO Country Programming Documents (UCPDs), “procurement information,” evaluation reports on programmes and projects, and results of all internal audits.

The policy established a number of exceptions, including for sensitive information and internal deliberations. The section states:


  1. UNESCO is commited to openness and trancparency. However, the effective functioning of the Organization, confidentiality concerns and the need to protect its staff, stakeholders and partners require that some information cannot be disclosed. This Policy is consistent with the porvisions in the relevant item of UNESCO’s Administrartive Manual (see Annex) Categories of information on which there will be restrictions on access include the following:
    1. Information of a sensitive nature contained in the Secretatriat records, such as correspondence and administrative files, adn in particuliar:
      • files containing sensitive information on relations between UNESCO and its Member States, between UNESCO and the United Nations, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, and between UNESCO and its partners, which, if disclosed, in UNESCO’s view would seriously undermine those relations, or any process of policy dialogue with Member States or implementing partners;
      • personnel files, and any additional information which, if divulged, is likely to endanger or compromise the life, health or safety and security of staff and their families, non-staff personnel or other individuals in relation with the Organization. UNESCO Rules require the Organization to establish and maintain appropriate safeguards to respect the privacy of UNESCO employees and protect the confidentiality of personal information about them. UNESCO will therefore not provide access to information that would compromise these safeguards;
    2. Information which, if divulged, might violate the right to reputation, affect the privacy or endanger the safety of individuals;
    3. Information which, if divulged, is likely to endanger or prejudice the security or proper conduct of any operation or activity of UNESCO;
    4. Information covered by legal privilege or related to individual investigations or inquiries;
    5. Commercial information the disclosure of which could harm either the financial interests of UNESCO or those of third parties involved, or which is covered by a confidentiality agreement;
    6. Information on UNESCO’s own internal deliberations and communications.

Replies are promised within 30 calendar days, fees may be charged and appeals to an internal review board are possible.

The fees language states:

For information requests that involve the research and/or reproduction of material, UNESCO may charge a fee for material and labor cost, which will be communicated to the requester and will have to be paid in advance.

There does not appear to be a provision for waiver requests.

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Filed under: IFTI Watch


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).
Contact: freeinfo@gwu.edu or
1-(703) 276-7748