GENEVA (27 September 2023) – Without universal and meaningful connectivity for all, the right to information is an empty promise for billions of people around the world, said Irene Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. Ahead of the International Day for Universal Access to Information, the expert issued the following statement:

“The Internet is not equally available or accessible to all and that is deepening existing inequalities and creating new inequities along lines of gender, geography, ethnicity, income and digital literacy, increasing the vulnerabilities of those most marginalised in society.

Noting that this year’s International Day for Universal Access to Information focuses on online spaces, I call on States to strengthen their efforts to close the digital divide and remove all barriers to the right to information.

The right to information is ‘the oxygen’ without which neither democracy nor development can flourish.

By enabling people to be better informed and better equipped to participate in decision-making, access to information, online and offline, improves the quality and sustainability of development outcomes. By empowering citizens, civil society and the media to hold governments and companies to account, it makes democracy more meaningful.

As my report shows, the good news is that many States have adopted laws on access to information and some even recognise access to the Internet as a legal right, but the bad news is that these laws often are not implemented effectively, and various tactics are used to restrict or deny access to information, online and offline, to investigative journalists, human rights defenders and other civil society actors.

In more than 74 countries over the past five years, Governments have shut down or slowed down the Internet, or blocked mobile communications for intermittent or prolonged periods, affecting access to information and disrupting health, education and other essential services.

Information, freedom of expression and active participation, online and offline, of youth, civil society and independent media are vital, whether to tackle global challenges, such as climate change and pandemics or to break age-old patterns of discrimination, exclusion and violence.

Universal and affordable access to the Internet and access to information are both clear targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. I urge all States to translate the commitments they made recently at the High-Level Summit on Sustainable Development into concrete action.”