Paradigm Initiative (PIN) joins the rest of the world to commemorate International Day for Universal Access to Information under the theme – Saving lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope. This day is commemorated against the backdrop of a global COVID-19 pandemic that has seen many lose their lives. The rights to education and healthcare have been grossly affected by the pandemic which has unearthed the challenges African economies face with regards to digital infrastructure that is so pertinent in ensuring enjoyment of human rights. Furthermore, the pandemic has more emphatically buttressed the importance of the internet.
In a UNESCO report on Socio-Economic And Cultural Impacts Of Covid-19 On Africa, 2020 it is reported that while many parts of the world have resorted to distance learning, leveraging the use of information and communications technologies, unfortunately in most parts of Africa, this is not a very viable option. The report also stresses the call for rethinking of priorities, in particular increasing investment in science, technology and innovation, moving into the future. This will contribute to viable healthcare systems and bridge inequalities on the continent.
According to a Statement by United Nations experts, governments must provide truthful information about the nature of the threat posed by the coronavirus, refrain from blocking internet access, address disinformation by providing reliable information together with internet companies and make exceptional efforts to protect the work of journalists. It is regrettable that some governments continue to crackdown on journalists under the guise of COVID19 regulations. The mandate of media practitioners is most critical to ensure that communities receive adequate access to information. In advocating for access to information, PIN also calls for responsible reporting that ensures truthful information is disseminated in promotion of the right to health.
The right to access information is provided in Article 9 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as the right to receive information and echoed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under article 19(2). We are in crucial moments where States must promote access to information and seek to develop information and communication technology.
PIN reminds African states of the provisions of Principle 37 of the Declaration Of Principles On Freedom Of Expression And Access To Information In Africa and calls for the following;
- States to facilitate the rights to freedom of expression and access to information online and the means necessary to exercise these rights.
- States to recognise that universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet is necessary for the realisation of freedom of expression, access to information and the exercise of other human rights.
- States, in cooperation with all relevant stakeholders to ensure laws, policies and other measures provide universal, equitable, affordable and meaningful access to the internet without discrimination.
- States shall take specific measures to ensure that marginalised groups have effective exercise of their rights online.
- States to adopt laws, policies and other measures to promote affordable access to the internet for children that equips them with digital literacy skills for online education and safety.