Access to information
Access to information is a human right.
This right was established as early as 1946 by Resolution No. 59 of the UN General Assembly. Since then, the international legal framework for access to information has expanded and strengthened. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
This principle is repeated in the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950, but with the additional binding force of an obligation accepted by member states as part of an international agreement. An analogous text can be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
National legislation protects this right through the Constitution, the specialized Access to Public Information Act, and certain texts in the Administrative Procedural Code.
Every Bulgarian citizen has the right to access information on the activities of state authorities, local self-governing bodies, and individuals and legal entities when the activities in question are financed by the state budget or European Union funds. Consequently, public institutions are required to provide access to information.
The Access to Public Information Act (APIA) regulates the terms and conditions for exercising this right. The law is most often used by organizations, journalists, and citizens in order to demand state authorities for public information that has not been published. Over the years, citizens and organizations have become more active in using legal mechanisms to access information. However, some institutions continue to arbitrarily refuse to provide such access.
BHC works toward several different goals:
- Extensive, unobstructed access to information;
- Reducing the restrictions for demanding information through the APIA;
- Accelerating the process of accessing information through the APIA;
BHC frequently uses the APIA to receive public information related to human rights investigations. Every year, our organization sends hundreds of letters asking for access to information.
BHC also conducts legal cases in instances where state authorities have refused to provide the required public information. For example, in 2018, BHC sued the State Agency for National Security following its repeated refusals to provide public information concerning the use of special methods of gathering intelligence. In 2021 and 2022, BHC won a series of cases against the Prosecutor’s Office over unpublished acts made by the Chief Prosecutor. Some of them contained rules that directly impacted the rights of citizens and lawyers, although those same individuals were unable to see them—only the Chief Prosecutor had access. Moreover, it is only through these acts that Bulgarian citizens can evaluate the current work and competence of the Chief Prosecutor. Thanks to BHC, many of these acts were publicized. The mechanisms of the APIA also helped to expose our country’s problem with inaccurate reporting of maternal mortality rates.