Ensuring accountability in the Post 2015 Agenda through transparency, free expression and enabling civil society participation

Ensuring accountability in the Post 2015 Agenda through transparency, free expression and enabling civil society participation - Civic Space

Children drive a donkey loaded with Babassu nuts along a dirt road in Maranhao State. The Babassu palm, in the background, native to this northeastern corner of Brazil, is an important part of the local culture and economy - more than 60 products come from it including oil used for cooking and cosmetics as well as the nutshell that is used as cooking fuel.

In its “A New Global Partnership” report, the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons stated that the rights of freedom of expression, access to information, association, and assembly are essential to achieving sustainable development. These rights are the fundamental building blocks of good governance, empowering people to actively participate in achieving development goals. This brief sets out recommendations on how this can be achieved through clear and measurable targets, building on the recommendations of the High Level Panel.  

The right to information

Transparency and the free flow of information are widely recognized as central in the promotion of development rights. The High Level Panel stated, “openness and accountability helps institutions work properly – and ensures that those who hold power cannot use their position to favour themselves or their friends. Good governance and the fight against corruption are universal issues. Everywhere, institutions could be more fair and accountable. The key is transparency. Transparency helps ensure that resources are not wasted, but are well managed and put to the best use.” To achieve this, the Panel called for a “New Data Revolution” to strengthen the collection of information to meet development goals.

To attain this “Data Revolution”, an effective legal framework needs to be adopted in each country to guarantee the collection and dissemination of information. The target should ensure that individuals, civil society organizations, businesses, and other formal and informal entities have a legal right to access information held by government bodies and others institutions relevant to their needs. At a minimum, this requires countries to adopt and implement a framework right to information law which sets out minimum standards on the right of everyone to demand information, the duty of bodies to collect, store and provide information in usable formats and without restrictions, and provides for a set of specific limited exemptions, appeals mechanisms, oversight, and sanctions. Over 100 countries around the world including China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, and Brazil have already adopted national laws or regulations based on these standards. Access can be further enhanced with requirements for proactive publication of information using information and communications technologies and specific sectorial legislation for key issues.  Without this legal framework, there is no guarantee that accurate and useful information be collected and made available to those who need it most.

Freedom of expression

The UN Task Team report to the Secretary General stated that, “Pluralistic, independent media may help raise public awareness about development issues, empowering people with information to better monitor implementation and performance and hold governments accountable.”

The media (including formal and informal entities and individuals) face barriers in many countries in investigating and reporting on development issues. They are often unable to access important information and face both legal and extra-legal threats, particularly when revealing corruption of public funds, misallocation of money from natural resources, tax avoidance by corporations and powerful individuals to pay taxes and other issues which impact the country’s economic development.

Targets are needed to promote freedom of expression and eliminate impunity for attacks on the media. UNESCO has already developed high-level “Media Development Indicators” which measure the freedom of the media in countries across a number of issues. Further, full investigation and prosecution for all attacks with a strict zero-impunity target should be incorporated into the likely goal on security.

Promoting civic space

The High Level Panel stated, “Civil society should play a central, meaningful role but this requires space for people to participate in policy and decision-making.  The role of civil society in promoting development has been firmly established in international policy for nearly 30 years – from the Bruntland Commission report, to the 1992 Rio Declaration, the Millennium Declaration, Agenda 21 and most recently in the Rio + 20 “The World We Want” Declaration.

Despite this recognition, restrictive laws and policies have proliferated around the globe to limit core civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly, which are enshrined in international law and necessary for CSOs to effectively operate. CSOs working in many areas – particularly those that challenge the status quo, such as promoting a healthy environment, fighting corruption, or advancing other important development needs – are at risk of arbitrary closure or other severe sanctions and unwarranted government interference and harassment. Laws and policies in many countries increasingly require CSOs to “harmonize” their activities with government priorities in national development plans. These requirements often limit the ability of CSOs to carry out activities intended to benefit marginalized communities or focus on issues neglected by governments.

These efforts are counter-productive. In their place, a target of opening up civic space to ensure that the best, most creative ideas and actions to address the overwhelming efforts needed to achieve sustainable development is facilitated.

Targets and indicators



“Guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data” A comprehensive legal framework which guarantees public access to government information

Sectorial legislation which guarantees public access to specific areas of specific importance to sustainable development 

Right to information law meeting international standards adopted and implemented


· UNEP Bali Guidelines on access to information, participation & justice

  • Membership in Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)
  • Membership in International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)

· Budget and fiscal transparency 

· Open data policy

“Ensure that people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information” A legal framework which guarantees media freedom and the public’s right of freedom of expression

· UNESCO Media Development Indicators

· Eliminate impunity and abuses against journalists

“Increase public participation in political processes and civic engagement at all levels” Legal and regulatory environment for civil society which recognises their independence and right to carry out their peaceful work without fear of harassment, reprisal, intimidation and discrimination

Adopt inclusive mechanisms to ensure full and effective public participation in development and environment plans and policies

  • Civicus Enabling Environment Index

· Inter-American Strategy for the Promotion of Public Participation in Decision Making for Sustainable Development

· OECD and UNEP Guidelines on environmental impact assessments and strategic environmental assessment processes