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Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression
19 April 2023
Human Rights Council, 53rd session
Issued by Special Procedures
Freedom of opinion and expression
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.
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.
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:
The following questions are provided as a guide for making inputs. It is not necessary to answer all questions.
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.