Ahead of the SDG 16 Conference in Rome, which will focus on discussing progress on Sustainable Development Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Inclusive Societies), ARTICLE 19 reminds the United Nations, states and civil society organisations that the goal of achieving sustainable development cannot be achieved without ample focus on freedom of expression and access to information.
The right to information has been a key element of sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Declaration, when the world’s leaders stressed the important role access to information and public participation play in achieving this key goal. When in 2015 they agreed the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development to end poverty, world leaders also recognised that public bodies’ access to information is a necessary enabling mechanism for public engagement across the goals, and specifically incorporated into Goal 16.
Goal 16 relates to ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’. Within the Goal, Target 16.10 focuses on ensuring public access to information and freedom of expression.
Access to information is an enabling goal – its effective implementation can help accelerate progress and contribute to achieving all SDGs. It can also be used as a tool to improve monitoring and implementation of other Goals, which is key for an effective mid-term review of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development ahead of the High Level Summit in September.
ARTICLE 19 has long argued that the right to freedom of expression and access to information are prerequisites to achieving sustainable development. As enabling rights, they empower people with knowledge to demand services and to hold governments and companies accountable for their actions. They promote accountability for development issues, as well as on other political matters. Access to information on budgets, spending, regulations, and decision-making means people can work from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance and participate in important decisions that affect their lives.
For this reason ARTICLE 19 has supported efforts taken towards integrating human rights with the development and anti-poverty agenda. We have been instrumental in advocating for the inclusion of target 16.10 within the Sustainable Development Agenda.
The three interconnected aspects of the right to freedom of expression – the right to speak, the right to know and the right to be heard – must be recognised and respected in the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The right to freedom of expression is the most potent force to strengthen peace and pre-empt conflict. It is central to developing democracy and plays a critical role in tackling the underlying causes of poverty.
ARTICLE 19 will be attending the upcoming SDG 16 Conference in Rome. The Conference will review progress and challenges related to SDG 16, focusing on conflict and shrinking trust in public institutions. The event will also explore SDG 16’s catalytic role in responding to food systems and climate change crises.
Ahead of the 2023 SDG Summit, ARTICLE 19 will be publishing a briefing on freedom of expression and access to information as enablers of sustainable development, where we will assess progress, highlight gaps and provide recommendations on how to accelerate progress to implement SDG 16.10.