Freedom of expression and access to information play a crucial role in good governance, transparency, and accountability–and these in turn are pillars of sustainable development. As the United Nations seeks agreement on a broad set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), there is a growing chorus of experts and organizations calling for the inclusion of good governance and fundamental freedoms, such as the rights to expression and association.
The goals will replace the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in 2000 and expire in 2015. Those goals made no mention of basic civil or political rights or acknowledgement of the role of freedom of expression and access to information. As such, the past decade has shown the unfeasibility of achieving laudable development objectives related to poverty reduction, food security, education, health, and peace, without also striving for good governance. The new sustainable development goals are meant to emphasize quality, not just quantity, amid a growing recognition that poverty can only be reduced through a holistic approach.
The sustainable development goals will provide a framework for development aid and thus influence donor priorities for years to come. CPJ and other freedom of expression organizations believe that including an indicator on governance, with a specific goal on press freedom, is essential to ensure impact and accountability.
The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals will decide whether to codify this goal and its components when it submits to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon its detailed suggestions for a new set of goals in summer of 2014. The next steps will be up to him. The working group has already noted that “Human rights and fundamental freedoms are essential for equitable and sustainable development” and that good governance, specifically “rule of law, democracy, access to justice and to information, transparency and accountability” enable sustainable development. To this end, the group called for integrating statistics on human rights into official country-level statistics. It also advised, “Targets and indicators on governance, rule of law, and related issues should be included under a stand-alone goal as well as under relevant sectoral goals.”
A report from the 27-member High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda put forward 12 goals with 54 recommended actions. The 10th goal is the promotion of “good governance and effective institutions.” The report, entitled “A New Global Partnership: eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development,” provides two necessary conditions:
- “ensure that people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information”
- “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”
It also calls for a data and transparency revolution to enable citizens to access information and statistics and for governments to make them available. According to an issue brief jointly drafted by a variety of U.N. agencies, there is widespread acknowledgment that shortfalls in achieving the Millennium Development Goals were not due to unrealistic goals or insufficient time, but rather “because of unmet commitments and […] a lack of focus and accountability.” These new goals and a focus by governments on providing information will help ensure the accountability previously lacking.