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APC welcomes the invitation to contribute to the thematic report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression to the UN Human Rights Council: “Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Sustainable Development – Why Voice Matters”.
The internet is a critical enabler of human rights, from freedom of expression and access to information, to freedom of assembly and protest, culture, education, health and work. Meaningful access to the internet impacts social and environmental justice and development, and is a precondition for the exercise of many civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights in a digitalised society. Access to the internet is recognised as a prerequisite for achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is explicitly addressed in Goal 9c, that is, to “strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”
Despite this goal, a lack of meaningful internet access affects around half of the world’s population. Recent research shows that in the context of emerging data-driven societies, this is already creating a new development divide, where unconnected people or those with only partial internet access cannot benefit from the incremental opportunities that digitalisation allows. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, showed layered exclusions for the unconnected, or those without strong digital skills, including from rapidly digitalised government and private sector services, such as social services, health services and information, and education (creating what some described as a “learning divide” in education in their countries). Those most affected were also likely to be at the intersection of multiple inequalities that include race, gender, class, age (older people are less likely to be able to digitally substitute), or location (such as the urban-rural divide). Stated differently, “the pandemic has highlighted that regional structural economic deficiencies and intersectional inequalities are amplified, as the economic and social value of the digital economy increases exponentially.”
It is within this context that our submission addresses in full or in part what we consider key issues that require attention by states with respect to the following areas:
Equality, inclusion, participation and empowerment of women and girls, Indigenous communities and other poor and marginalised groups.
The role of independent media and investigative journalism in promoting sustainable development and the barriers, threats and challenges they face.
Policies and practices of digital technology companies in promoting sustainable development and reducing inequalities in access to information and communications.
Read the full submission here.