Free Access to Information

December 21, 2007

Donor: American Bar Association (ABA-CELLI)
Duration of the project: June 2007 – February 2008

In November 2004, the Serbian Parliament adopted Access to Information Law (FOIA). However, major difficulties arise when it comes to the implementation of the Law. Precisely, the authorities – competent for providing access to information of public interest – foster the culture of secrecy, thus restricting access to information; the general public (citizens, media, NGOs) – those who are entitled to request access to information – restrain from using FOIA, due to the variety of reasons (lack of information on their rights according to FOIA and the use of FOIA, lack of trust in institutions due to the general absence of the rule of law in the country).That was the reason way the Centre commenced in 2006 with educational activities for relevant target groups. Centre continued organising seminars which address those competent for providing access to information (particularly in the institutions relevant for the rule of law – members of the prosecution and the judicial authority) and those entitled to request access to information from the authority (general and expert public).

Nine educational activities have been organized – four two days seminars and four one day trainings throughout the country (Pirot, Bor, Kraljevo, Priboj, Vrsac, Zlatibor, Novi Pazar and Vranje), with around 25 participants present at each seminar and training. The one-day training session for representatives of ministries in Serbia was held in Belgrade at the end of the project. Among other, the following topics were discussed during seminars and trainings: the FOIA and the rule of law (impact on anticorruption, fair trial, media freedoms, human rights, accountability for the lack of openness); distinguishing between FOIA and Privacy Data Acts, Access to Files of the State Security Services Laws, publicity of court proceedings principle; relation with disclosure of government information; right to privacy; FOIA international standards; international sources for FOIA; international organizations involved in FOIA, databases and web sources (incl. web-presentation of the FOIA Coalition and the Information Commissioner) – interactive presentation; Serbian FOIA- implementation in practice (case studies).

The appropriate literature handouts and presentations from lecturers, FOIA related articles, researches, studies, case law, legislation etc., both local, regional and international have been distributed and used as necessary toolkit for the work of participants during seminars and trainings. The lecturers at the courses were the most renowned and experienced experts in the field of FOIA, both local and regional. Local lecturers have been recruited primarily among the experts who were involved in drafting of and lobbying for Serbian FOIA (experts from the OSCE, NGO YUCOM, University of Belgrade Faculty of Law, Transparency International Serbia and the FOIA Commissioner). Regional lecturers were from the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb (Croatia), the Centre for Free Access to Information in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Transparency International Macedonia and Office of the Information Commissioner of the Republic of Slovenia.