We Need Information

By Abdulaziz YASIN(ERITREAN REFUGEE)   Before some  months  the Eritrean Refugees AssocaItion ask some questions to Cor(Commision of refugee in sudan),they did’t answer the question of this organization.Why? History is replete with instances of good concepts weakened by vague definitional parameters and the concomitant blurring of focus. This is equally true in the case of the notion of access to information. A good starting point is the observed variations in the title of legislative instruments ? ?Access to Information?, ?Freedom of Information? and ?Right to Information? (to give three common examples). As the Scottish author Kenneth Grahame remarks ?The strongest human instinct is to impart information. The second strongest is to resist it?. A cursory glance at the contemporary chronicles of corruption in the poor and developing countries reveals that only the second part of the above quotation holds good. As history has repeatedly underscored, secrecy breeds corruption and the violation of human rights. Control of information in the hands of a powerful few has led to the marginalization of millions of people, who have been bypassed by development. Given this disquieting fact, it is quite imperative that we talk about a ?right? wherein ordinary refugees can get information as an entitlement and not as a favour. Watering down what is now universally regarded as a fundamental right (the concept is clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) to passive concepts like ?access? or ?freedom? will blur the focus and dilute the effectiveness of any concerted effort to open up records. So let?s get the semantics correct ? we are talking about a non-negotiable right of refugees to demand information from the state and other relevant entities to enhance the quality of governance and strengthen the vibrancy of democracy.

This brings us to the next questions of ?who frames? and the ?what? of the questions asked. Interestingly, the basic premise of all existing debates on the issue of access/right to information hinges on the transactions between the state and the citizens. How the abusive discretion of a monopoly state can be controlled and contested by `voices? of an informed refugee emerges as the central question. It is a debilitating fact that most legislation on access to information covers only state entities. Critical non-state actors like NGOs, trans-national corporations, international institutions, funding agencies and professional bodies more often as not, fall out side their ambit. This is a glaring lacuna. As the world gets increasingly enmeshed in complex interrelationships, global actors are able to play an active role among local economies and societies in unprecedented scale and scope. The emerging welter of polemical themes like bio-piracy, genomes, transgenic crops, hazardous dumping etc., need to be covered under the rubric of `right to information? delimiting effective checks and balances, if functionality should remain a prime concern.  

Information can tell us everything. It has all the answers. But they are answers to questions we have not asked, and which doubtless don?t even arise?
– Jean Baudrillard, French semiologist. Cool Memories, ch. 5 (1987, trans. 1990).


But what is this access to information? At the outset, it may be useful to keep in mind that the phrase has two clear connotations ? one, legal and the other, social/political. The legal interpretation points to an enforceable and non-negotiable right to access to information. The social/political perspective points to the basic tenets of modern democracy like openness, participation and accountability. In more specific terms, access to information is an effective instrument for discouraging arbitrary action on side of the government and protecting the refugees? basic right to due process and equal protection of the law and also to reduce corruption within government institutions and enhance integrity in public life. So we need to inform because it is fundamental human right and it’s a precondition to transparency and accountability. 

Short URL: https://english.farajat.net/?p=2325

Posted by on Jan 22 2006 Filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

Leave a Reply

Photo Gallery

Log in |2011 farajat.net