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European Convention on access to official documents enters into force

Strasbourg, Dec.1.– The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents, the first binding international legal instrument to recognise a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities, entered into force today. The treaty, also known as the Tromsø Convention, after the city in Norway where it was opened for signature, entered into force in respect of ten Council of Europe member states - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Montenegro, Norway, the Republic of Moldova, Sweden and Ukraine. The convention entered into force three months after its ratification by Ukraine, the tenth state to ratify it.

The right to access to official documents held by public authorities is essential to transparency, good governance, freedom of speech and participatory democracy and it facilitates the exercise of other human rights and fundamental freedoms. Access to official documents enables citizens to form an opinion on the state of the society which they live and the governing authorities. It enables citizens’ awareness of public affairs and their informed participation in decision-making processes. It is also very important for free and independent media outlets, journalists and other media actors to have legal and guaranteed access to information and official documents in order to inform the public. The Tromsø Convention provides a framework of legal principles in respect of all these democratic goals and sets out a number of basic guarantees regarding the right to access of official documents.

This Convention is the first binding international legal instrument to recognise a general right of access to official documents held by public authorities. Transparency of public authorities is a key feature of good governance and an indicator of whether or not a society is genuinely democratic and pluralist. The right of access to official documents is also essential to the self-development of people and to the exercise of fundamental human rights. It also strengthens public authorities’ legitimacy in the eyes of the public, and its confidence in them.

This Convention lays down a right of access to official documents. Limitations on this right are only permitted in order to protect certain interests like national security, defence or privacy.

The Convention sets forth the minimum standards to be applied in the processing of requests for access to official documents (forms of and charges for access to official documents), review procedure and complementary measures and it has the flexibility required to allow national laws to build on this foundation and provide even greater access to official documents.

A Group of Specialists on Access to Official Documents will monitor the implementation of this Convention by the Parties.

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