Right to information: barrier across several themes of work

Over the past year Myanmar’s Parliament has been considering the development of a Right to Information Law. The drafts put forward have primarily focused on journalist freedom (which is increasingly under threat in Myanmar), but in theory there could be scope for introducing other provisions related to Namati’s work and the needs of our clients.

In the land rights space in Myanmar, one big barrier to resolving land grab cases is that the government institutions who hold land records are still controlled by the military, and often they will not release information to our paralegals that shows who the “official” owner is. There is a formal process for requesting information, but even so does not often yield this information.

In the citizenship space-- in which Namati is not yet working in Myanmar-- some of the issues are very similar. Colleagues from UN, Norwegian Refugee Council, Humanitarian Dialogue, and others who work on citizenship issues, say that in many instances the government has copies of the documents necessary to provide someone with a citizenship card, even if the client has lost his family’s copy of the records. But the government either doesn’t have the willingness or capacity to be forthcoming with these documents.

Do any teams (@namati_salone @namati_mozambique @namati_ej) or other organizations have experience with helping to develop their country’s right to information laws and in particular trying to expand them to include these types of administrative information that are critical to legal empowerment?

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@caitlinpierce and friends on the Network. Several of us now part of @namati_ej have been using India’s Right to Information (RTI) law since its inception in 2005. As part of the EJ Legal Empowerment work, this is a critical tool of both evidence collection and seeking remedies as part of the case work. It finds a mention on the EJ case form. Here is an article by @bharatpatel and Manisha Goswami which highlights the use of the RTI law in the case of the Kolak River pollution: http://indiatogether.org/vapi-decades-of-damage-environment.

We have found the use of the RTI law is also very effective in research and advocacy efforts. The CZMA Study drew substantive data collected through RTI applications. More recently we managed to get a landmark judgment from the Central Information Commission (CIC) which is the apex body hearing appeals under the RTI law. Here is a posting for the @namati_staff on the same: https://community.namati.org/t/ministry-finally-discloses-coastal-regulation-zone-crz-committee-report/5226. It pushes the government to disclose “in draft” polices, laws and amendments with the public.

In another recent effort an critical disclosure was made related to the deferring of a penalty for environmental non-compliance or a project on the west coast of India, where Namati was involved in a groundtruthing effort. A detailed analysis of that is available here: http://cprindia.org/news/5359.

We would be happy to share with @namati_myanmar our experience and challenges with the drafting, use of the RTI law as well as effective implementation of the progressive judgments as it runs through many aspects of our EJ work.

Requesting @ginococchiaro and @RoseBirgen to also share their experiences from Kenya, though the Access to Information law is fairly new there.

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@namati_staff @namati_myanmar @ws_learning
Myanmar was one of the first United Nations Member States to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Article 19 of Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. The 16th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is dedicated to promoting peace, justice and strong institutions, and one of the key targets is to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

However, there is no law in Myanmar that protects citizens’ right to information. There is also a persistent pattern of barriers to getting access to government officials and the military. The Right to Information is important and Myanmar needs to use it to eradicate the culture of impunity and corruption in public administration. In 2015, there was news that the government was writing a Right to Information law. However, there has been no trace of it at the end of 2016 with Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD Party serving as government. According to Namati Myanmar’s experience in helping communities tackle land issues by giving paralegal aid, it has been difficult to get access to the government’s information and statistics on land cases. It is not clear how many of the cases have been settled, how many are closed and how many are still in the process.

This shows that the government departments still lack transparency and it hinders the work of paralegals as they continue to struggle for receiving right information. The government has released the total number of land released and land cases settled. But it lacks detail information and paralegals are not sure if this number includes the land cases they have been working on.

There are local civil society organizations that have been lobbying the government to pass a Right to Information law. When asked about the new developments regarding this, the organizations said it was not on the agenda of the government yet. Namati Myanmar feels the need to play a role in this as it seeks to fill the gaps that obstruct its work on land issues.

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