Background Paper on the Right to Information

Louis Brandeis, an eminent jurist and United States Supreme Court Justice, defended the value of transparency and openness in 1913 by noting: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” At the time, only one country in the world, Sweden, had passed a right to information (RTI) law giving the public a right to have access to documents held by government. The right to information has since been broadly recognised internationally as a human right.

Globally, as of May 2017, 116 countries, including nearly every democracy, had adopted an RTI law. However, the Arab World is among the world’s weakest regions on this important human rights indicator. Today, just five of the Arab League’s twenty-two member States have adopted RTI laws: Jordan (2007), Tunisia (2011), Yemen (2012), Sudan (2015) and Lebanon (2017). At the same time, several Arab
countries – including Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia – have guarantees of the right to information in their new constitutions and a number of Arab countries – including Palestine and Morocco – are developing RTI laws.