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Advancing transparency: access to historical documents

Meeting today in Paris, the Standing Committee emphasised the recognition of the right of access to information as “a universal human right”, particularly regarding State-held information. “As a general rule, all information held by public authorities should be freely accessible,” the parliamentarians stated.

Adopting a resolution based on a report prepared by Klotilda Bushka (Albania, SOC), PACE called on member States to adhere to key principles, including “maximum disclosure, proactive publication of information, strict guidance on exceptions, and a reasonable cost for access to information”, while also addressing legitimate limitations.

While acknowledging limitations based on national security and privacy concerns, the Assembly highlighted the need to prioritise historical truth, especially in cases involving past authoritarian regimes. Thus ensuring that access to information about “serious violations of human rights or humanitarian law and crimes committed by State agents” was not withheld on national security grounds.

The Assembly stressed the importance of consulting extensively with relevant stakeholders, including historians, researchers, NGOs, and civil society organisations, when considering changes to access to historical information law and policy.

The Assembly also encouraged cooperation between States and civil society, emphasising digitalising archives and fostering international collaboration for easy accessibility. It underscored the protection of individuals and civil society engaged in preserving historical memory. The parliamentarians called for the return of archives to their countries of origin, mitigating the challenges posed by physical distance in establishing historical truth.

Finally, the Assembly called on all member States which have not yet signed or ratified the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromsø Convention) to do so as rapidly as possible.