Assessment of Access Goal Next Stage in UN Process

24 September 2015

Several alternatives have emerged on how to monitor the access to information target contained in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The new global development agenda is on track to be approved this weekend in New York by the United Nations’ 193 member states. Decisions on how to monitor implementation of the goals are expected next year.

The new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development replaces the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000, a set of eight objectives which expire this year. The new agenda, created over three years, is more comprehensive than its predecessor, with 17 goals and 169 specific targets. The number of measurements has not been determined but could approach 300.

One of the goals, Goal 16 Target 10, commits signatories to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.” (See previous report.)

The larger picture value of information in the context of the SDGs is addressed in a commentary article in The Huffington Post by David Banisar, senior Legal Counsel of Article 19. He wrote: “The right to information (RTI) is an “enabler right”: it is not only a legitimate and widely recognized right itself, but is also a right that is, when effectively implemented, able to strengthen the ability of individuals to ensure that their rights are being respected.”

Assessment the Next Issue

The next step is to determine how to empirically assess implementation of the goals, and the nominations are being made to a committee of member-state statisticians known as the “Inter-Agency and Experts Group,” or IAEG. By the end of the year, the IAEG intends to presen recommendations to the UN Statistical Commission, a member-state body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is elected by and subordinate to the General Assembly. The Statistical Commission is to agree upon a final set of official UN indicators for the SDGs at its annual meeting in March 2016.

The IAEG will hold its next meeting in late October in Bangkok, with stringent restrictions on civil society participation,” according to a blog post by Bill Orme, who has been lobbying on the issue with the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), a Brussels-based coalition of 180 national, regional and international NGOs specialized in journalism training programs, advocacy for legal safeguards and related support for independent media and the public’s right to be informed.

UNESCO, a key UN agency in the process has proposed a simple measure on the access goal: the number of countries that “have adopted and implemented constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information.”

How to do this is fleshed out in a proposal by GFMD. The plan essentially relies on national self-evaluations and periodic country reports to the UN. Orme wrote, “The aim of SDG16.10 should be to make passage and implementation of such laws a universal norm by 2030.

The World Bank has suggested that its own system for evaluating the implementation of freedom of information laws be used along with many other sources of information to validate/complement what countries themselves produce, as described in a recent blog post by Victoria L. Lemieux, a Senior Public Sector Specialist at the Bank. The Bank has developed a core set of indicators on Right to Information Drivers of Effectiveness – the RIDE Indicators, best described in a paper titled RTI Drivers of Effective Implementation.

GFMD Proposal Described

The GFDM has proposed to build on countries’ own system for monitoring their FOI laws. A designated UN agency “could provide a template for regularly issued SDG 16.10 indicator reports, offer technical support as requested and needed, and publish the completed national reports in a consistent, globally accessible online format,” Orme summarized.

He explained:

The baseline for implementation for every nation is inherently different, however, for a variety of socioeconomic and historical reasons. This requires different national priorities and hence different metrics, from improving internet access to legal reforms to systematizing the proactive online disclosure of all information in government hands that should be available to the general public. These different national starting points and priorities should be acknowledged in this UN reporting process.

Another Measurement Tool

An additional assessment tool is needed to evaluate the phrase “protection of fundamental freedoms” under SDG 16.10, Orme wrote.

An indicator on this was proposed by UNESCO, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the International Labor Organization for five SDG targets: 5.2 (violence against women), 16.1 (violence and deaths), 16.3 (rule of law), 16.6 (accountable institutions), and 16.10 (protection of fundamental freedoms):

Number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates in the previous 12 months.

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