Transparency and access to information in times of COVID-19

During the international response to COVID-19, a good part of the controversies has revolved around the handling of information: committee composition, hospital occupation, availability of breathing equipment, purchases from suppliers, deconfinement plans, tracking staff, vaccination plans, etc..

During these discussions, It is often forgotten that access to information by citizens is part of the human rights enshrined both in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights., that in your article 19 establishes the 'freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of all kinds ». Also, the handling of information during the pandemic is also related to other rights such as the protection of personal data and non-discrimination, that is especially affected when the disorderly flow of news encourages the stigmatization of groups in vulnerable situations.

Given the need to unify criteria and develop a coherent message from a rights perspective, the RTA (Transparency and access to information) has had the support of Governance Area of the European Union program EUROsociAL+ (coordinated the FIIAPP), to carry out a study on the response to the emergency in different countries in Latin America and Europe. Since the pandemic broke out, this program has been supporting, from its different areas, actions to mitigate the impact of the humanitarian crisis, social and economic in which the countries are immersed. The investigation has been in charge of Sustentia, which has carried out an exhaustive analysis of the response given in each country, has extracted lessons learned and drafted recommendations to ensure access to information in future disaster scenarios.

The research has focused on collecting experiences in four specific areas:

  • Guarantees and limitations of rights: legal guarantees, modification of administrative procedures and appeals.
  • Practical barriers to the exercise of rights and response in emergencies: digital divide, contingency plans, moral magistracy, remote work, completion of online procedures and digital files.
  • Active transparency and the right to health: publication criteria, supervision of published information and forms of information dissemination.
  • Tensions and collisions between rights: prevention of misinformation and infodemic, personal data protection, use of mobile applications, stigmatization risk management and transparency exceptions.

The report already available for free download and was unveiled on Thursday 26 February in a webinar organized jointly by the RTA and EUROsociAL +. In addition to serving to present the main findings of the report, The meeting featured two roundtables made up of renowned experts in transparency from both the public sector and civil society..

The analysis has focused especially on the role of the guarantor bodies, which are those entities in charge of ensuring in each country the full exercise of the right of access to information. Understanding the COVID-19 pandemic as a disaster, The analysis has shown the different activities that the guarantor bodies have been carrying out in the different phases of the emergency from their role as moral magistracy in the defense of rights:

As a result of the analysis of the experiences gathered at the international level, The report prepared by Sustentia concludes with a series of recommendations aimed at guiding the action of the guarantor bodies in the remainder of the pandemic, as well as in the event of future disasters: promotion of the right of access to information as a fundamental right, prioritization of requests for information related to the emergency, definition of contingency plans, attention to the digital divide, stigma prevention, dynamic update of active transparency requirements, inclusion of information dissemination as an integral part of the response to the pandemic, verification of published information, control of public purchases, etc..

The experiences collected in the study show that, far from a dilemma between transparency and effectiveness in the response to the pandemic, Access to information by citizens is a key right that helps save lives and strengthens democratic governance and social resilience..

You can download the full report at this link: