Council of Europe Parliamentarians Endorse Tshwane Principals

The Open Society Justice Initiative welcomes the endorsement by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of the Tshwane Principles on National Security and the Right to Information, a set of global principles including on protections for national security whistleblowers and journalists sources and safeguards against abusive surveillance.

In a resolution approved on October 2, the assembly urged governments in the Council of Europe’s 47 member states to take the Tshwane Principles “into account in modernizing their legislation and practice.”

Sandra Coliver, who leads the Justice Initiative’s work on the right to information, said:

“The passage of this resolution is important because the PACE membership—318 members of parliaments across Europe—are precisely the people who can get legislation passed in their own countries.  They are the ones who are tasked with adopting laws to address the underlying causes of the outrage sparked by the recent revelations from Edward Snowden regarding the extent of U.S. global surveillance."

The assembly made clear that “a person who discloses wrongdoings in the public interest (whistle-blower) should be protected from any type of retaliation, provided he or she acted in good faith and followed applicable procedures.”

It also stressed that “access to information should be granted even in cases normally covered by a legitimate exception, where public interest in the information in question outweighs the authorities’ interest in keeping it secret.”

It listed categories of information that normally should be found to be of overriding public interest, including information concerning human rights violations and information that could make an important contribution to, or promote public participation in, political debate.

Coliver described this as “an important advance,” because previously whistle-blower protections focused on safeguarding the release of information that exposes wrongdoing. Much information of high public interest—for instance the bulk of Edward Snowden’s disclosures to date—do not technically disclose violations of any law.

The Tshwane Principles were developed in consultation with more than 500 experts from more than 70 countries at 14 meetings held around the world, facilitated by the Open Society Justice Initiative and launched by 22 international and regional civil society groups in June 2013.

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