The Right to Know: Insights in the right to information
Dr. Judith Spiegel
Assistant Professor of Public International Law – KILAW
The right to information is laid down in a range of international, regional and national (human rights) instruments. Furthermore, over the past decades more than one hundred states enacted laws guaranteeing citizens access to information. Not without good reason: transparency is not only a right benefiting the information-seeker; it is also crucial in the fight against corruption and the accountability and credibility of administrative bodies.
This paper gives a background and development of the right to information (part 2). The third and fourth parts are dedicated to a study of the laws of the Netherlands and India, including its limitations, flaws and proneness to abuse. The fifth part deals with the lack of any such law in Kuwait, despite the country being signatory to international human rights and anti-corruption instruments, stating democratic values in its constitution and having faced the consequences of non-transparency more than once.
In all three studied systems it becomes clear that the ‘belief in secrecy’ of governments still lingers – to a greater or lesser extend and for various reasons – and that case law shows that widely formulated exceptions to the right to information help governments to withhold information. The final part of this paper therefore concludes that the right to information is still not optimal and suggests that the limits to the right to know should be as frugal as possible, with the no-harm principle as bottom line.
Key terms: freedom of information; transparency, Netherlands, India, Kuwait