UN: Sustainable Development Goals and an urgent call for freedom of expression

UN: Sustainable Development Goals and an urgent call for freedom of expression - Transparency

At the occasion of the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), reviewing progress on the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, ARTICLE 19 urges states to intensify their efforts to protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information (Sustainable Development Goal 16, SDG 16). We are concerned that instead of advancing the protection, there has been a regression in critical areas since 2023. Attacks against journalists and human rights defenders are increasing, with a record number of journalists and media workers killed in conflict zones. Adopting new access to information laws has stagnated, and the enforcement of many existing laws has been weakened. With the 2030 deadline for achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) rapidly approaching, we call on the international community to reverse these negative trends by making serious commitments to SDG 16 at the HLPF and in the lead-up to the Summit for the Future in September.

From 8 to 12 July in New York, the UN is holding the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the main UN platform on sustainable development. The HLPF plays a crucial role in reviewing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its sustainable development goals (SDGs). Under SDG 16, the states committed to ensuring the safety of journalists, public access to information, reducing corruption, enhancing public participation, and protecting human rights.

In the run-up to the HLPF, on 3 July 2024, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) released the annual SDG Report for 2024. In the report, it found that only 17% of the SDG targets were on track, with nearly half showing minimal or moderate progress, and over one-third exhibiting a lack of progress or regression. The report also underscored a regressive trend in achieving SDG 16.

UNDESA’s findings are alarming and mirror ARTICLE 19’s concerns. As we highlighted in our briefing Sustainable Development Goals: On or off track? Assessing the progress through freedom of expression and information, there were significant deficiencies in monitoring states’ progress in meeting SDG 16. Namely, we reiterate out warning about the following issues: 

  • Sharp increase in attacks against journalists and media workers, in particular in conflict zones. As of 6 July 2024, 158 media workers have been killed in Gaza since 7 October 2023. In South America, particularly Mexico, attacks against journalists and human rights and environmental defenders have been increasing, including kidnapping, detention, legal harassment and online attacks. Attacks are not limited to physical attacks, as we have seen a record number of digital attacks and SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). 
  • Slow progress in the protection of access to information: Progress in adopting new access to information laws has been minimal, with only Zambia making strides since 2023. Even when states adopt right to information laws, the implementation of the legislation is problematic. This includes systemic delays in responding to information requests and numerous other barriers, such as a culture of secrecy and charging fees. Bodies overseeing the implementation of these laws suffer from a shortage of resources or delays in the appointment of relevant officials (information commissioners).

ARTICLE 19 also recalls that failures to meet SDG 16 is problematic not just on its own but also in the context of achieving the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development. The right to freedom of expression and information is crucial for achieving all SDGs and should be mainstreamed across all SDG agendas. 

We urge states to address these challenges in the review of SDG 16. The UN Member States must reaffirm and integrate the right to freedom of expression, information, and participation into their commitments at the HLPF and in the lead-up to the 2024 Summit for the Future. This is essential to getting the world back on track to achieving the SDGs by 2030.

Otherwise, the HLPF will be yet another missed opportunity.

Follow our updates on SDGs here.