Earlier this month, the city of São Paulo hosted a large gathering to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are currently under negotiation at the UN.
The event, “The Sustainable Development Goals: what is at stake in these negotiations? Analysis and strategies of civil society,” was part organised by ARTICLE 19 and brought together representatives from across Brazilian civil society.
Once established, the SDGs will provide a framework for the global development priorities of all States. Each goal will have specific targets and indicators that States will be held accountable in achieving. It is expected that the goals will be launched in January 2016, replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which conclude at the end of 2015.
17 suggested goals have been recommended by the Open Working Group (OWG) in their ‘Zero Draft’ document. The OWG, formed by representatives of 70 UN member states, held a series of meetings to produce a list of suggested goals and targets as part of an official UN process. However, the ‘Zero Draft’ is now up for discussion as part of a global negotiation process which we expect to conclude in September next year.
At the São Paulo event, Paula Martins, Director of ARTICLE 19 South America, commented on the Zero Draft with regard to issues of freedom of expression and access to information and justice.
Martins explained that ARTICLE 19 continues to advocate for a specific goal on governance that recognises the fundamental role access to information, free expression and public participation in decision making play in achieving sustainable development. “It is only with information that people can participate in real and meaningful ways in decision-making,” she said.
Martins said that all mention of the right to freedom of expression had been cut from the Zero Draft in the final days of the OWG discussions, and the text on the right to access to information whilst remaining, has been weakened.
“In the ‘Zero Draft’, the right of access to information has appeared only under certain conditions, subjected to national legislation and international agreements. Also, the ‘Zero Draft’ does not make reference to freedom of association and assembly, nor to the protection of civil society participation, as was called for by ARTICLE 19 South America.”
Despite the problems, Martins concluded by saying she believes that progress has been made in building on the MDGs so that the SDGs will do more to reach and empower marginalised and vulnerable individuals.
“At least now we see the mention of the right of access to information and the need for government transparency, something that was not seen in the MDGs. However, it is unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to better define the issues of freedom of expression and access to information in the ‘Zero Draft’”, said Martins.