This toolkit aims to support Civil Society Organizations in developing shadow reports on Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 on access to information in the context of the Voluntary National Reviews.
The toolkit is based on existing best practices and lessons learned from these parallel reports and aims to provide local civil society with better guidance on how to prepare them. In this way, the toolkit intends to contribute to the successful and inclusive voluntary national reporting aimed at empowering local civil society and specifically those that are working to guarantee the safety of journalists.
This toolkit provides a practical step by step guide on how to draft a shadow report. It includes case studies and best practices of organizations that produced a shadow report in 2021. The toolkit consists of the following components:
The Tools section includes an outline for a shadow report and a checklist for a shadow report.
The remainder of this introduction section provides a background on the Sustainable Development Goals, the High-level Political Forum, the Voluntary Reviews and the role of Civil Society.
In 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) adopted the resolution ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The agenda serves as a universal plan to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people can enjoy peace and prosperity.
The scale and ambition of the 2030 Agenda is demonstrated through 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. These goals intend to stimulate action over the next 15 years in areas of critical importance, aiming to realize human rights while balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: the economic, social and environmental.
One of the cross-cutting priorities of the 2030 Agenda emphasizes the need for peace, justice and strong institutions. Sustainable Development Goal 16 aims ‘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’. Within this overarching theme, the agenda intends to ensure public access to information and the protection of fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements, such as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is encompassed in SDG target 16.10.
In order to achieve the aforementioned target, the UN set two main indicators. The first indicator (16.10.1) investigates the safety of journalists on the global scale and the second indicator (16.10.2) focuses on the legal and policy frameworks for public access to information.
The inclusion of access to information in the Sustainable Development goals is important, because access to information enables citizens and civil society to hold governments to account, exercise their voice, and make informed decisions about their lives. It contributes to government transparency, good governance, and resilient democracies. The implementation of the right to information not only depends on establishing laws and institutions, but also on the willingness of government to be transparent, and the ability of citizens to demand and use information.
State obligations and UN Resolutions on the Safety of Journalists
In 2012, the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity (UN Plan of Action) was initiated. This UN-wide plan aims to promote the safety of journalists and tackle the widespread impunity for crimes committed against them.
Additionally, since 2012, several resolutions on the Safety of Journalists have been adopted at the UN Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, and UN Security Council. These resolutions are rooted in international human rights law obligations of states.
Furthermore, the UN Secretary General’s Call to Action for Human Rights, launched on 24 February 2020, includes important commitments on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.
The UN resolutions on the safety of journalists are not directly binding on States. Nevertheless, they “represent a strong political commitment by States to take action in line with their binding international human rights law obligations and carry significant normative weight”1.
It shows a strong commitment to promoting the safety of journalists at the UN.
As part of its follow-up mechanisms, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development encourages member states to conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national level. With the purpose to evaluate the overall progress on delivering the SDGs, each year the UN convenes governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and non-governmental organisations to come together at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York.
During the HLPF, governments report on their progress with regards to implementing the SDGs. They do this through ‘Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs). In the VNR, governments report progress made on every SDG by submitting a written report and giving a presentation at the HLPF. Even though VNRs are voluntary, each government is expected to report progress at the forum every four years. In 2021, 44 countries signed up to conduct a VNR.
VNRs are a relatively new mechanism and the process is gradually becoming more effective. However, significant concerns about the inclusivity of the process remain. Even though the UN guidelines on the VNR process emphasize the needs to include various stakeholders throughout the process, governments often only consult other stakeholders after the reports have been formally submitted to the UN. In general, little opportunities exist for the non-state actors, such as civil society, to provide input in the VNRs.
In order for the VNRs to become an effective instrument, more attention needs to be given to the voluntary national reviews as an inclusive process. Non-state actors should be given more opportunities to participate in the process, when it comes to developing the reviews and presenting outcomes at the HLPF. It is especially important that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have space to play a proactive role and complement the official accounts of progress.
The CSOs are key stakeholders in order to achieve SDG 16.10. Their proactive role can lead to an increased awareness of violations against media workers globally. Civil society can actively promote coordination of global partnerships, provide possibility for internal reflection, and create opportunities for peer learning.
In some countries, CSOs already take an active part in the voluntary national reviews through their separately developed ‘shadow reports’. Shadow reports give civil society the opportunity of highlighting their perspectives on the progress of SDG implementation in the country. Producing shadow reports is especially relevant in contexts where the government does not include civil society in the drafting of its Voluntary National Reviews or where little official data on SDG implementation is available.
1Article 19 (2019) Ending Impunity; Acting on UN Standards on the Safety of Journalists. https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/SOJ-Web.pdf
This toolkit was developed by Free Press Unlimited with the support of UNESCO (October 2021).
Author: Anna Gorter
Organizations consulted: African Freedom of Information Centre, Independent Journalist Association Indonesia (AJI), La Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa Colombia Pakistan Press Foundation Voces del Sur