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Call for submissions to the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression to the UN Human Rights Council: “Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Sustainable Development - Why Voice Matters”

Issued by

Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression


19 April 2023

presented to

Human Rights Council, 53rd session


Issued by Special Procedures


Freedom of opinion and expression

Symbol Number



In this report, the Special Rapporteur explores the linkages between the right to freedom of expression, including the right to information, and sustainable development. While recognizing important progress made in normative standards for access to information, the Special Rapporteur highlights that more is needed to ensure that the voices of those most disadvantaged in society are heard. She argues that only when both access to information and the effective participation of youth, Indigenous communities, the media, human rights defenders, civil society actors and others are fulfilled will the promise to leave no one behind be realized.


The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Irene Khan, invites Member States, national human rights bodies and other relevant State institutions, international and regional organizations, civil society, scholars and other interested individuals and organizations to provide written inputs for her next thematic report on freedom of opinion and expression and sustainable development. The report will be submitted to the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council in June - July 2023.

Background and objectives

Freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds across borders, and the achievement of sustainable development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The right of people to be informed and consulted on public policy and to debate, discuss and participate fully, equally and meaningfully in decisions that affect their lives and livelihoods is vital for good development. It enhances transparency and accountability of governments and business, and empowers poor and marginalized communities to overcome deprivation, inequality and exclusion. Yet, in many situations, people’s right to share information and express their views is curtailed through laws, policies or discriminatory practices, or hampered through lack of access to the Internet or the spread of misinformation and disinformation on social media.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is essential for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights. It is as important to development as it is to democracy. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges this relationship in various Goals. In particular, Sustainable Development Goal 16 seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” including through “ public access to information and (protection of) fundamental freedoms.”

At the Sustainable Development Summit in September 2023, UN Member States will review achievements at the mid-way point of the Agenda and discuss ways to reach the full implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The Special Rapporteur hopes that her thematic report, with valuable input from governmental, non-governmental and corporate stakeholders, will be used in the lead up to the Summit to encourage discussions on concrete ways in which human rights generally, and the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression in particular, can advance the Agenda on Sustainable Development and related issues.

The thematic report will highlight the critical relevance of freedom of opinion and expression to sustainable development. It will analyze concrete opportunities and challenges of freedom of opinion and expression in the context of sustainable development as well as the international legal and policy framework and progress or gaps in implementation. Drawing lessons from good practices and concrete examples, the report will make recommendations to address the challenges.

Building on the previous work of this mandate on gender justice, digital technology and media freedom, the report will focus on the right to information online and offline as a means of enhancing transparency and accountability of governments and companies; the equal and full participation of poor and marginalized communities in sustainable development; and the role of the media in promoting sustainable development. Drawing inspiration from SDG 5 and in line with the commitment of the Special Rapporteur to gender equality, the report will take a strong gender perspective.

Key questions and issues

The Special Rapporteur would be grateful for observations, data, case studies and concrete examples of challenges, opportunities, good practices and recommendations relating to freedom of expression, including the right to information, in the context of sustainable development in the following areas:

  1. transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption and misuse of resources in the public and private sector;
  2. equality, inclusion, participation and empowerment of women and girls, indigenous communities and other poor and marginalized groups;
  3. the role of independent media and investigative journalism in promoting sustainable development and the barriers, threats and challenges they face;
  4. policies and practices of digital technology companies in promoting sustainable development and reducing inequalities in access to information and communications.

The following questions are provided as a guide for making inputs. It is not necessary to answer all questions.

  1. In your view, how does the right to freedom of opinion and expression contribute to the achievement of the SDGs? Please provide examples, where possible, with concrete data relating to impact. Please also mention relevant laws, policies and other measures.
  2. Are there restrictions or other challenges to freedom of expression or access to information that affect the delivery of public services and achievement of economic, social and cultural rights in your country? Which groups of people are most affected by these restrictions and in what ways? What measures would you recommend to address their problems? 
  3. What factors affect the right to expression and information of women and girls, indigenous peoples and other poor and marginalized communities and their access to information and communications technology in your country? What legal, policy or other measures has the government taken to overcome these problems? How effective are these measures and what improvements would you recommend?
  4. What have digital companies done to promote safe and uninterrupted online access to timely and pluralistic information and communications of women and poor and marginalized communities? How can information and communication technology companies better engage with governments and communities to promote sustainable development?
  5. What laws, policies and practices exist in your country to facilitate public participation and access to information and data relating to sustainable development? Where have there been successes, or conversely challenges, with facilitating access to information and data relating to sustainable development in relation to a) governments and b) companies?
  6. What role does the media play in promoting sustainable development in your country? What challenges and threats do journalists face in accessing public information or reporting on or criticizing development policies?
  7. What laws, policies and other institutional measures exist in your country to protect investigative journalism and whistleblowing? How effective are they and what further measures should be taken to protect journalists and whistleblowers? Where possible, please provide concrete examples of investigative journalism or whistleblowing related to sustainable development, e.g. exposure of corruption or misuse of natural resources.
  8. What do you believe are the key issues in relation to sustainable development in addition to or instead of the bullet points above that deserve attention by this mandate? Do you have any specific recommendations that you think the Special Rapporteur should make in her report?

Additional supporting materials, such as reports, academic studies, and other types of background materials are welcome and may be annexed to the submission. 

Please circulate this call for input widely in your networks. The Special Rapporteur greatly appreciates the efforts that go into making such contributions from stakeholders and looks forward to reading the submissions with great interest. All submissions will be published on the OHCHR website, unless there is a request to keep them confidential. 

Inputs Received
Inputs Received
Member states





El Salvador







The Netherlands


United Kingdom



OSCE Representative on Freedom on the Media


National bodies

Albania Information and Data Protection Commisioner’s Office

Ecuador Defensoría del Pueblo

Guatemala Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos de Guatemala

Malawi Human Rights Commission

Mexico Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Ciudad de México

Mexico Federal Institute for Access to Public Information and Data Protection - INAI


North Macedonia Agency for protection of the right to free access to public information

Peru Defensoría del Pueblo

Philippines Information Agency

Portugal Commission on Access to Administrative Documents

South Africa Promotion of Access to Information Regulator


Access Now

Accountability “Dot” Fish

Altermidya Network

Aman Transparency

American Association of Jurists

Amman Center For Human Right Studies




Asia Centre

Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development

Association for Progressive Communications

Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji)

Center for the Study of Democracy

Centro de Gobernanza Publica y Corporativa

Coalition pour des multinationales responsables

Defenders in Development campaign

Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Center (Azerbaijan)

Fisheries Transparency Initiative

Fondation Hirondelle

Free Press Unlimited

Fundacion Multitudes


Global Partners Digital

IBON Foundation

ICNL on behalf of numerous organizations

International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions

International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India

Kaos GL

Latin American Network on Social and Economic Justice Latindad

Maat for Peace


Open Contracting Partnership

Open Government Partnership

Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project

Pakistan Press Foundation


Tax Justice Network

Uzbek Forum for Human Rights

Wikimedia Foundation

Women for Women s Human Rights – New Ways


Costantino Grasso and Donato Vozza

Damian Varela

ESADE, University Ramon Llull in Barcelona, Spain

Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

Fabíola Ortiz dos Santos

Guy Berger

Johanna Michel

Observatoire de la diversité et des droits culturels, U. Fribourg