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Declaration on Parliamentary Openness [Draft Commentary]

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Title IV - Making Parliamentary Information Easily Accessible

Sec. 33. Using Multiple National or Working Languages

Where the constitution or parliamentary rules provide for the use of multiple national or working languages in parliament, parliament shall make every reasonable effort to provide for the simultaneous interpretation of proceedings and rapid translation of the parliamentary record.

In the context of transparency and openness of parliamentary information, language can be an important barrier for parliaments to overcome to avoid discrimination in informing their constituents. In countries with one or more official language, it is vital that political participation is not hampered by the language spoken by citizens.  This principle is endorsed by major parliamentary organizations , including the IPU,[1] COPA,[2] SADC-PF[3] and the CPA. The CPA’s standards document prescribes, “Where the constitution or parliamentary rules provide for the use of multiple working languages, the Legislature shall make every reasonable effort to provide for simultaneous interpretation of debates and translation of records.”[4] Recognizing the wide variation in languages spoken among countries in the community of world democracies, the IPU clarifies that this principle be carried out  with each countries’ parliament “[deciding] for itself what is possible,” with, for example with parliamentary websites, best effort taken “to translate [websites] into as many official languages as feasible.”[5] 

Acknowledging the difficulty of fulfilling this standard, the World e-Parliament Report 2010 notes that, for countries with two official languages, only 28% of parliaments responding to their survey offered their website in both languages. Continuing efforts toward transparency must focus on this as a key issue of accessibility.  While it may be impractical or undesirable to interpret or translate all legislative documents into non-official languages that are in common use, the parliament many nonetheless wish to conduct some basic level of outreach in non-official local languages, in an effort to broaden citizen engagement and political inclusion.  

[1] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §5.3.

[2] COPA, The Contributions of Parliaments to Democracy: Benchmarks for the Parliaments of the Americas, §

[3] SADC PF, Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures in Southern Africa, §6.4.3.

[4] CPA, Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures, §9.2.1.

[5] IPU, Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites, §5.3.