ICIC, Cancun - 2005

Conference Report

Author: David Goldberg, Co-convener, Campaign for FOI in Scotland (CFOIinS)
Title: Third International Conference of Information Commissioners

Conference Report: Third International Conference of Information Commissioners

The Third International Conference of Information Commissioners (3ICIC) was held in Cancun on 20th – 23rd February 2005 at the invitation of the Mexican commission, IFAI - Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información Pública

The first such conference was held in Berlin in 2003 and the second in Cape Town in 2004.

3ICIC was officially opened by Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada, underlining the importance of the event and the issue to domestic Mexican politics, particularly in the run-up to the presidential election.

There was a very full programme (3ICIC, 2005), around 130 different plenary and parallel sessions, some going on into the mid-evening.
(see the Programme as at 10th February).

Around 430 people registered from 50 countries, including 44 Commissioners and/or equivalents. The rather high number of Commissioners is because several Mexican state commissions have more than one commissioner (Dave Banisar, Deputy Director of Privacy International puts the global number of independent commissioners with order making powers at around 15).

The Mexican Commission had extended a wide and open invitation to civil society, NGOs etc., who made up more than 100 of the attendees. This meant that 3ICIC was perhaps the biggest FOI event ever, a not insignificant fact in itself.

Whilst most were positive about this, some commissioners would have preferred more prior consultation about this evolution and, in addition, that their number was more represented, particularly during the plenary sessions. Civil society participants also voiced this opinion, hoping to hear more informed discussion between commissioners concerning difficult issues brought before them. As it was, too many presentations were overlong rehearsals of the history, developments and activities of organisations and in jurisdictions.

Apart from the plethora of sessions, the main concrete outcome of the meeting was the adoption of the Declaration of Cooperation. The draft (only, for now) version is available on the conference website. It is a re-run of the 2003 Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the first International Conference of Access to Information Commissioners (see ). The operative paragraph reads: “In order to foster a broader, worldwide public awareness of Freedom of Information, to further analyse and defineits vital elements, and to benefit from an exchange of experiences, the undersigned agree to a continuous cooperation through the International Conference of Information Commissioners.

Not to be outdone, 58 ngo/civil society groups adopted the Declaration of Cancún: Transparency and Accountability: A Commitment to Democracy (see below* for the text).
As a lasting legacy, it is hoped that (many of) the presentations (and the final version of the Declaration of Cooperation) will be put up on the 3ICIC website; certainly IFAI has promised to do this.

Apart from that, the 3ICIC was notable for the number and variety of FOI advocates and implementers that one could network with in a short space of time.

Finally, in a principled burst of transparency, the Rapporteur announced that the event cost around USD 600 000 to put on. Certainly, the hospitality was more than adequate, including a memorable dinner held on the hotel’s adjacent beach under a velvety Caribbean night sky. Whilst next year’s ICIC will be memorable, no doubt, in its own way, one can more look forward to a dinner beside the Manchester Ship Canal - yes, 4ICIC will be hosted by the UK Information Commissioner and take place during May 2006.

* Declaration of Cancún: Transparency and Accountability: A Commitment to Democracy

The right of access to information has no meaning if people cannot use information to improve the quality of their lives. Access to information must not simply belong to elites, but must be a daily component of participatory democracy, equitable development, and the struggle against poverty and discrimination.

As civil society organizations we recognize and welcome the open and interactive nature of the Third International Conference of Information Commissioners In recognition that access to information is a fundamental right and an essential condition for democratic governance, accountability and the development of participatory democracy:

We call on governments to promote the full implementation of access to information in line with the highest standards, including the establishment of access to information commissions. We urge those governments which have not yet adopted access to information laws to initiate adoption as rapidly as possible; we urge those governments whose laws do not conform with the minimum standards to improve their legislation.

Principles of transparency should be applied to all government decision-making, budgeting, and administrative functions.

We demand that transparency principles apply to all institutions that operate with public funds and carry out public functions, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches, also political parties, autonomous and parastatal organizations, and to private businesses to the extent that the information is related to their public functions or use of public resources, or affects the enjoyment of human rights.

We urge that principles of transparency and access to information be adopted in the regulations and practices of all intergovernmental organizations, including financial institutions. The management, structure and policies of these organizations should be grounded in respect for transparency and access to information in accordance with the highest international standards.
We propose that non-governmental organizations and private businesses adopt the same standards of transparency as voluntary good practices.

In particular, we recognize the crucial role played by information commissioners and we offer our continued support and cooperation in promoting full enjoyment of the right of access to information at the national and international levels.

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