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COMMUNICATION & INFORMATION

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UNESCO and partners celebrate the International Day for Universal Access to Information

Islamabad, 28 September 2017: Democratic rights, freedom of expression, and the right of access to information: these were some of the key cross-cutting issues discussed during the International Day for
Universal Access to Information. With participation from various stakeholders, the event employed a holistic approach to further the debate on access to information between government officials, civil society members, students, journalists, and members of the international community. Several matters of concern were addressed and key recommendations proposed.

Roundtable discussions were conducted by moderators who are experts in the Right to Information (RTI) field. The importance of creating an all-encompassing RTI law that is gender sensitive and includes minorities was discussed. It was agreed upon, that in order to make progress towards SDG 16.10, it is essential that no one is excluded from the RTI narrative.

During the opening remarks, UNESCO's Representative, Ms. Vibeke Jensen emphasized the significance of proper policy and legislature as being paramount to achieving the goals set out by the SDGs. She said, "Only equitable access to and provision of information to everyone can truly advance progress in any society". While presenting their findings, the moderators noted that there was a general consensus on the need for transparency amd that information should be accessible through digitized means, and procedures in place should be easy to use by citizen.

Following the model of UNESCO's IPDCtalks (International Programme for the Development of Communication), a panel of experts was convened - including UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne, Deputy Director of the Punjab Information Commission Ahmed Naeem, Owais Aslam Ali from the Pakistan Press Foundation, and Shmyla Khan from the Digital Rights Foundation. During the talks, the experts contextualized the need for RTI laws within the SDG framework, and highlighted the importance of the consultative process while drafting laws.

Mr. Buhne stressed the significance of bridging the gap of access in terms of technology among citizens, while Mr. Naeem emphasized the necessity of media invovlement in reporting about access to information stories. Mr. Ali called further attention to the importance of the participation of the media-stated as the fouth pillar of society in RTI law, and Ms. Khan called for gender responsive laws in the context of access to information.

During the key note address- delivered by the Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights, Ms. Rabiya Javeri Agha - she highlighted the Right to Information as a fundamental human right. Ms. Agha iterated the need for a transparent RTI legislation, and the importance of citizen engagement

Her Excellency, the Swedish Ambassador, Ms. Ingrid Johansson opened the exhibit on The Swedish Freedom of the Press Unfolded, stating that freedom of expression is a fundamental right we have to fight for together and it is an instrument for democratic and developed societies. In her address, the Ambassador of the Netherlands, Her Excellency Ms. Ardi Stoios-Braken, accentuated the role of RTI in empowering citizens. The EU Ambassador, His Excellency Jean Francois Cautain addressed the significance of gender disaggregated statistics, the inclusion of multiple languages in information portals, and the importance of RTI in the role of a democratic country.

The event, titled "Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information", was held with the support of the EU, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the Embassy of Sweden.