A significant step has been taken to make a reality of “public access to information and fundamental freedoms,” one of the specified targets in the Sustainable Development Goals.
On 15 October 2019, the 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 28 September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The resolution was adopted by consensus following a presentation by the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Liberia to the United Nations, Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, who led the proposal and negotiations for the resolution.
The resolution was put forward by six UN Member States as main co-sponsors, alongside Liberia were: Argentina, Canada, Costa Rica, Sierra Leone and Ukraine. Another 23 countries joined in co-sponsoring the resolution upon its adoption.
The International Day for Universal Access to Information was initially adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2015. Following the 38 C/Resolution 57, UNESCO marked 28 September as the “International Day for Universal Access to Information” (IDUAI), to raise awareness of the right to seek and receive information an integral part of the right to freedom of expression, and as key to sustainable development.
Since 2016, UNESCO has celebrated the Day and highlighted how the right to access information is an enabler of all Sustainable Development Goals within the 2030 Agenda. In 2019, UNESCO organized a series of ‘Open Talks’ around 20 countries to showcase access to information as a driver for sustainable development.
“Public access to information can enhance the protection of human rights, bring about better governance, including by fighting corruption, and drive sustainable development,” underscored Moez Chakchouk, Assistant-Director General for Communication and Information for UNESCO, during the opening of the international Open Talks global commemoration event held in Lima, Peru on 27 September 2019.
The 2019 UDUAI events were also the occasion to launch a special “in-focus” edition of UNESCO’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development, titled “Access to Information: a new promise for sustainable development“.
The process to establish an international day for access to information began at the 2011 Pan African Conference on Access to Information. The event was organized with support of UNESCO in order to mark the 20th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration [add link: https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000093186], which in turn had led the UNGA to declare every 3 May as World Press Freedom Day.
The 2011 conference was followed up by a civil society coalition called the African Platform for Access to Information, which led advocacy efforts at UNESCO, and now the UNGA, for Member States to recognize 28 September as a special date on the international calendar.
As part of its role in the protection of the right to seek and receive information, UNESCO has been designated by the UN General Assembly as the custodian agency for global monitoring of SDG target 16.10 indicator 2.
SDG 16.10.2 tracks progress on the achievement of SDG 16 in terms of improvements in countries adopting and implementing constitutional, statutory and policy guarantees to public access to information. UNESCO monitoring of 42 countries during 2019 showed a need for improved record-keeping on the implementation at national level.
Together with civil society efforts, UNESCO has encouraged and supported Member States to include the 16.10.2 indicator in their monitoring of SDG progress.
During the 2019 High Level Political Forum at the UNGA, increased monitoring in this area was reflected within reports by 28 countries – more than half of the total of 47 who took part in the Voluntary National Review process for the year.