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UN-SG Ban calls for “universal right to publicly held information”

May 3, 2010

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week called for more government transparency around the world, and applauded a “universal right to publicly held information.”

“People have a right to information that affects their lives,” he said, according to a UN press release. “States have a duty to provide this information. Such transparency is essential to good government.”

Ban’s endorsement of freedom of information laws around the world could be undermined by practices and policies by UN agencies that exert authority over people, especially in humanitarian operations. The UN itself has no freedom of information law of it own and its agencies have considerable discretion over what information they release to the public.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has a policy prohibiting providing asylum-seekers copies of their own interview transcripts in refugee status determination cases. The policy that established this rule, UNHCR’s 2001 Confidentiality Guidelines, has itself not been released to the public.

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