UN report calls for freedom of expression in post-2015 development

Calling for a transformation in the approach to global development that includes a larger role for freedom of expression, the United Nations’ High Level Panel of Eminent Persons released its Post-2015 Development Agenda report, Milana Knezevic writes.

The panel was tasked with crafting recommendations to build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which expire in 2015.

Freedom of expression is widely acknowledged within the global development community as being crucial for states to develop and prosper. All citizens, regardless of background, must be able to have their voice heard in civil and political society and be able to hold those in power to account.

The MDGs failed to include freedom of expression as a central pillar for development. It appears the members of the panel were determined to rectify this omission right from the start of the Post-2015 process. The report – and its recommendations – was the result of a nine-month consultation process that included input from indigenous peoples, migrants, women’s groups and others often excluded from the global development debate, in addition to thousands of civil society groups and businesses from around the world.

The panel is calling for five transformative shifts to drive the new development agenda: ‘Leave no one behind’, ‘Put sustainable development at the core’, ‘Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth’, ‘Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all’ and ‘Forge a new global partnership’. The importance of freedom of expression, a free media, participation and government transparency and accountability are key points in the report.

The panel also identified 12 clear goals that inform and power the five themes. These goals, which include ending poverty and providing quality education, will also serve to help measure and track progress. Goal ten — ‘Ensure good governance and effective institutions’ — spells out strong commitments to freedom of expression. It calls for freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest, and access to independent media and information. Beyond this, it calls for increased public participation in political processes and civic engagement, as well as guarantees regarding peoples’ right to information and access to government data.

“People everywhere want more of a say in how they are governed”, the reports states, and it appears the panel intends to make this a big part of the post-2015 development agenda.

The report makes some interesting suggestions for monitoring implementation, including regional peer reviews and a “revolution in development data”, though it remains to be seen what will happen after its presentation at the UN General Assembly in September.

The fact that freedom of expression is a core value in one of the most important international development documents in the world is a big step in the right direction.