21 Jul 2017 Linking information and knowledge to sustainable development
No access, no democracy. Image courtesy of Techweez.
A key principle of communication rights is freedom of information.
WACC underlines this concept in its Strategic Plan 2017-2021, which speaks of the need for “unfettered access to the information and knowledge essential to democracy, empowerment, responsible citizenship and mutual accountability.”
Now, the independent human rights organisation ARTICLE 19 has produced a report linking the right of access to information to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and proposing a framework for the UN to use in order to monitor progress.
“Open Development: Access to Information and the Sustainable Development Goals” was published in June 2017. It argues that the right of access to information held by governments and other powerful bodies empowers individuals and communities to be able to engage and participate in decisions that affect their lives.
Freedom of information has been widely recognized around the world as a fundamental human right, as well as an important tool for promoting the rule of law, fighting corruption and ensuring other rights.
In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), access to information held by public bodies is recognised as a vital enabling mechanism for public engagement across the goals and is specifically incorporated into Goal 16 as well as implicitly in many other goals and targets.
ARTICLE 19’s report “reviews the current state of the right of access to information across the world to provide a baseline for future assessments over the lifetime of the 2030 Agenda. It finds that there has been significant incorporation of the right in well over half of UN Member States.”
The report notes that, “The right has now been adopted into law or policy in 118 countries around the world (61 percent of UN Member States) from the largest countries (China, India, USA, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico) to some of the smallest (St Vincent and the Grenadines, Vanuatu) covering 89 percent of the world’s population.”
It says that, “In addition, 90 countries have adopted explicit constitutional guarantees. Many countries are also implementing transparency initiatives such as e-government or open data which supplement the right but generally do not fully ensure the right of access to all information.”
Despite such positive achievements, the report concludes that, “The practical experience in many countries is that the laws themselves are not adequate in ensuring that all people have access to the information they need. Much more effort is needed to ensure that the frameworks are adequate and that the information is reaching the people who need it most.”
ARTICLE 19 makes the following recommendations:
- All countries should adopt comprehensive access to information laws based on minimum standards.
- For those countries with existing laws, countries should conduct a multi-stakeholder review to identify the existing gaps in legislation and the availability of key SDG-related information.
- Governments and other stakeholders should increase the publication of open data, especially those related to vulnerable groups, and make sure that this data contributes effectively to improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable.
- Governments should enable an independent and neutral body with the independence and financial autonomy needed to accomplish its role of monitoring and supporting the RTI implementation at all levels.
- Governments should engage new approaches in their ways of interacting with civil society and citizens, and they should be inclusive and respect diversity.
- The inclusion of key stakeholders is important to identify information of general interest and to support proactive disclosure.
- International organizations and global actors can support initiatives and actions to encourage the participation of different actors to improve the implementation of RTI and the realization of other human rights contained in the SDGs.