17 organizations and five academic centers issue a set of Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information

Press Release

12 June 2013

Today, 17 organizations and five academic centres, working in all parts of the world issued a set of Global Principles on National Security and the Right to Information.

These Principles were developed in order to provide guidance to those engaged in drafting, revising or implementing laws or provisions relating to the state’s authority to withhold information on national security grounds or to punish the disclosure of such information.

They are based on international and national law, standards, good practices, and the writings of experts.

These 22 organizations and academic centres (listed below) have consulted with more than 500 experts from more than 70 countries at 14 meetings held around the world over the past two years, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative, and in consultation with the four special mandates on freedom of expression of the UN, ACHPR, OAS and OSCE.[1]

The final meeting was held in Tshwane, just outside the city of Pretoria, South Africa and, accordingly, the Principles are called the “Tshwane Principles.”

The Principles, in draft form, already played a role in supporting civil society demands, some of them successful, to delete or modify the most troubling sections of South Africa’s recently adopted Protection of State Information Law.

Activists in Peru, Colombia, Egypt, India, Pakistan and elsewhere have indicated that these Principles likely could play beneficial roles in their countries as well.

Several principles are of special interest:

Principle 10 states that information about serious human rights violations may never be classified or otherwise withheld, and that disclosure of such information should never be punished.

Other information that should be disclosed includes the location of all places where persons are deprived of their liberty by the state; the possession or acquisition of nuclear weapons; and information about deaths in custody, decisions to take military action, and natural resource exploitation.

Whistleblower protections are set forth in Principles 37-43; limits on criminal sanctions for disclosure to the public (by public servants and others) are set forth in Principles 45-47, including a public interest defense. Protection of sources is at Principle 48.

The 22 organizations and academic centres are:

  1. Africa Freedom of Information Centre (Kampala/ Africa);  
  2. African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) (Cape Town/ Africa) 
  3. Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información (Americas)
  4. Amnesty International (London/ global);
  5. Article 19, the Global Campaign for Free Expression (London/ global); 
  6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum Asia) (Bangkok/Asia);
  7. Center for National Security Studies (Washington DC/ United States); 
  8. Central European University (Budapest/ Europe);
  9. Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Wits University (Johannesburg/ South Africa);
  10. Centre for European Constitutionalization and Security (CECS), University of Copenhagen (Copenhagen/ Europe);
  11. Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria (Pretoria/ Africa);
  12. Centre for Law and Democracy (Halifax/ global); 
  13. Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CDPI) (Islamabad/ Pakistan)
  14. Centre for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE), Palermo University School of Law (Buenos Aires/ Argentina);
  15. Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (New Delhi/ Commonwealth);
  16. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (Cairo/ Egypt);
  17. Institute for Defence, Security and Peace Studies (Jakarta/ Indonesia); 
  18. Institute for Security Studies (Pretoria/ Africa);
  19. International Commission of Jurists (Geneva/ global); 
  20. National Security Archive (Washington DC/ global);
  21. Open Democracy Advice Centre (Cape Town/ southern Africa); and
  22. Open Society Justice Initiative (New York, Budapest/ global).


[1] These are the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media.