Access to information is a linchpin of freedom of expression, and a fundamental human right that impacts the daily lives of citizens and their ability to fully participate in public life. Citizens, armed with critical information, can protect their rights, and hold the government accountable. Cambodian citizens, however, do not have the information they need to realize their rights and receive the services to which they are entitled. The right to access information held by public bodies (also referred to as ‘freedom of information or ‘right to information) has been recognized in international law as a fundamental human right. Although there is no ‘right to information specifically listed in the earliest human rights instruments, this right is now generally recognized as part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive, and disseminate information. Access to Information (also known as A2I law) has now been adopted into law or policy in over 120 countries around the world.
In Cambodia, over a decade of A2I public workshops, consultative meetings, and conferences involving government officials, members of civil society, and legal experts took place. A draft policy paper on Access to Information was also completed in 2007. By 2015, a technical working group consisting of Ministry of Information officials, UNESCO officials, civil society representatives, and legal experts was formed to create the first draft of the Law on Access to Information. Public consultations with civil society groups and legal experts continued on a regular basis for nearly three years, which resulted in the completion and submission of the first draft in February 2018. It has since been consulted with key relevant ministries for further review and updated, 2019 & 2020 versions. Updated draft law versions were shared with CSOs. The CSOs' Access to Information Working Group (A2IWG) analyzed revised drafts again and again and provided inputs to improve the 2020 version through face-to-face lobbying meetings with the Ministry of Information, 5th Commission of the National Assembly and submitted CSO's inputs to the Prime Minister to improve the law and pass it soon. The Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) formally acknowledged the need for an A2I law and CSOs agreed that such a law would "create a transparent government, reduce corruption, and promote confidence in the government by the citizens of Cambodia.", it was set (with donor approval) to develop a clear policy framework on access to information, which would lead to eventual drafting and adoption of an applicable law At present, the draft law is being reviewed by the Ministry of Justice, with government officials citing several reasons for the delay, including the COVI-19 pandemic.
"What is certain is that the law on right access to information must be released in 2020," said Prime Minister Hun Sen in January 2020. "The Ministry of Justice does not spend much time to verify with the Civil Code and verify with the Penal Code, therefore, there is a concurrence between the laws with the provisions of the Penal Code."
At a time when Cambodia is suffering from COVID-19, which is affecting the daily lives of Cambodian citizens, access to open public information is becoming even more important. Without a law enshrining the right to information, citizens face uncertainty in getting the information they need on disease prevention, health services, and other vital topics. Furthermore, it has been nearly three years since the draft law reached the Ministry of Justice.
The Access to Information Working Group (A2IWG), which consists of 30 members of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and partners, conducted the National Conference on Universal Access to Information. The conference aimed at promoting “the right to information” with inclusive participation from CSOs and relevant stakeholders.
The A2IWG have been actively participating in administrative reform, especially “the right to information”, to promote human rights and democracy for the development in all areas.
The conference took place on 28 September 2022 in Phnom Penh. There are around 350 attendees, including representatives of the national assembly committees, government officials, leaders of political parties, development partners, CSOs, and Community-based Organizations (CBOs).