Introduction Over the past few decades, an increasing number of States have adopted access-to-information laws or other institutions designed to make available information about government decisions and activities. A number of factors have made possible this trend toward greater governmental transparency. The spread of democratic government worldwide, the emergence of a global civil society, the proliferation of international regimes requiring States to disclose information, and the widespread availability of information and communication technologies have all likely contributed to the global transparency trend. Underlying these pressures is a strong belief that transparency influences, among other things, the quality and efficiency of governance. The purpose of this chapter is to contribute to our knowledge about the role of transparency in safeguarding and improving human rights, as one element of governance. We define transparency as the dissemination of regular and useful information. Many studies assume that information about government policies and practices helps improve compliance with international and domestic human rights law, but they have not documented how and to what extent information-enhancing institutions and practices have been ensconced at the international and especially the domestic levels. We argue that one critical window into this matter is the establishment of national human rights institutions (NHRIs). NHRIs are independent governmental bodies specifically mandated to protect and promote human rights, and represent focal institutions for the provision of transparency about rights law and practice at the national level. We argue that the efficaciousness of these institutions depends on how and whether they actually inform people about the nature of human rights law and how individuals can act on this knowledge if they think their rights have been violated. Nowadays, websites represent the main tool by which NHRIs inform citizens of these matters. We show that NHRI websites are now commonplace, but recognize they are only potentially useful if they work, are navigable, and provide information that citizens can use to hold their governments and private actors accountable.
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