Today is the first International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), 28 September 2016. The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) joins the worldwide freedom of expression community in celebrating this international day. NUSOJ particularly solutes the African free expression advocacy community who successfully championed for this international day to be declared.
The right of access to information is a human right. Somali people are entitled to have the right to be able to access information, form opinions and share ideas without any restrictions or interferences from the government.
In Somalia, the right of access to information is provided for in the provisional Constitution. Article 32 states that: “(1) Every person has the right of access to information held by the state; (2) Every person has the right of access to any information that is held by another person which is required for the exercise or protection of any other just right; (3) Federal Parliament shall enact a law to ensure the right of access to information”.
In the past four years, the Federal Government of Somalia failed to enact an access to information law as dictated by the Constitution of the country. Despite constitutional guarantees, there is no legal regime that provides members of the public with the right to access records and information held by public bodies. The media law that was enacted in January 2016 impinges this right by limiting journalists and media’s access to information.
Those who inform the public, particularly Somali journalists, operate in a very hostile environment. Journalists have been arrested, intimidated or even murdered in the exercise of their duty or whenever State actors or None-State actors felt their reporting had gone against their interests. Media houses are closed down for broadcasting or publishing information that people want to know.
“Access to information enables the citizenry to effectively participate in their governance and development by ensuring accountability of the government and its leaders. Unless citizens have access to information, their ability to hold public actors to account, participate in policy processes is incessantly hindered, which means effectively impeding public participation in the governance” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
NUSOJ is fully cognizant that majority of people in Somalia are generally unaware of their right of access to information and the constitutional guarantees that allow them to request information from government offices. Demand for information is dependent on the awareness and capacity of potential end-users to access the information.
“We solute and commend brave journalists and other citizens who, despite all risks to their life and restricts, strive to exercise their right to access information. It is also a day to remember those who have become victims for exercising their right to access information,” added Osman.
Openness and accessibility by the public to information about government activities is a vital component of democracy and a positive aspect of good governance. Accessing accurate information helps citizens to make informed decisions on issues that affect them. The right of access to information also helps make government processes more transparent and those governing more accountable.
As the country heads indirect elections, the next government of Somalia must honour its constitutional and international obligation to avail its people of the right to access information by putting in place legal provisions that guarantee the enjoyment of the right of access to information.