Council of Europe resolved to curb state secrecy and ensure free access to information to the public

Amnesty International launched a new report in June to unlock the truth about CIA secret prisons in Poland

©Grzegorz Żukowski

Council of Europe resolved to curb state secrecy and ensure free access to information to the public
(Brussels, 2 October 2013) Today in Strasbourg the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution reminding European governments that information on “the responsibility of State agents who have committed serious human rights violations such as murder, enforced disappearance, torture or abduction does not deserve to be protected as secret’’.
The “National security and access to information” resolution was adopted by a sound majority. Crucially, the Assembly endorsed the “Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information” which address what information may legitimately be kept secret and what information ought to be disclosed. It called on all Council of Europe (CoE) member states to “take them into account in modernising their legislation and practice concerning access to information”.
“This endorsement and call by the Parliamentary Assembly represents a significant step in the promotion of the Global Principles, which are aimed at ensuring a proper balance between secrecy and the public’s right to know”, said Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Amnesty International welcomes this resolution and urges all Council of Europe member states, and all other states, to follow the Assembly’s calls to implement the Principles in their national legislation and practice. In addition, other international bodies should follow the Assembly’s example and promote the implementation of these Principles” .
The resolution highlights the importance of ensuring free access to information held by public authorities, stressing that any exceptions “must be provided by law, pursue a legitimate purpose and be necessary in a democratic society’’. In this context, the resolution underlines that “information about serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law should not be withheld on national security grounds in any circumstances’’ and calls for the protection of whistle-blowers who disclose “wrongdoings in the public interest’’ against any type of retaliation. It also underlines the need for public bodies overseeing secret services to be independent from the executive and have relevant expertise, with “robust powers of investigation and full access to protected information”.
In the wake of recent information on surveillance programmes by various countries, the Parliamentary Assembly also expressed concern “about recent disclosures on massive surveillance of communications by secret services and resolved to follow up this important issue”. Amnesty International has been calling on governments to clearly state their opposition to all systems of mass surveillance, including the United States’ NSA PRISM system and similar systems in several European countries, and take action to stop further abuses of the right to privacy and freedom of expression.
Note to editors
The “Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information” (also referred to as “The Tshwane Principles”) were issued in June 2013 following two years of consultation facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative. Governments, former security officials, civil society groups and academics contributed. Amnesty International actively contributed to the drafting of the Global Principles. They give guidance to governments, legislative and regulatory bodies, public authorities, policy makers, the courts, other oversight bodies, and civil society throughout the world on issues surrounding national security and the right to information, focusing on the respect for human rights and democratic accountability.
For more information please contact:
Maeve Patterson
Media & Communications Officer
European Institutions Office
Amnesty International
Tel: +32 (0) 2 548 2773