Despite the many achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the MDG framework has been deficient in some important respects, not least in terms of how it deals with equity and the protection of human rights (civil and political, as well as economic, social and cultural). This deficiency is important because without human rights, sustainable development cannot be realized.
That is why the negotiation and adoption of the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals is so important. It presents an historic opportunity to embed a rights-based approach into global sustainable development policies.
A human rights-based approach to development draws upon the principles and legal framework of human rights, and requires that respect for the human rights of those affected by aid or development programmes is central to planning and implementation. It recognises the beneficiaries of aid or development programmes as rights-holders with legal entitlements and identifies governments and their partners, including international institutions, as duty bearers with correlating legal obligations to meet those entitlements. Making rights more integral to development would have a wide-range of important benefits.
It is now generally understood and accepted that poverty results from disempowerment and exclusion. Poverty is not simply a lack of material goods and opportunities such as employment, ownership of productive assets and savings. It is also the lack of physical and social goods such as health, physical integrity, freedom from fear and violence, social belonging, cultural identity, organizational capacity, the ability to exert political influence, and the ability to live in respect and dignity. Human rights violations are both a cause and a consequence of poverty.
Thus, the various human rights-based approaches have many common characteristics such as linking development goals to human rights standards; focusing attention on marginalized groups; promoting empowerment and participation; and ensuring the accountability of duty-bearers. In 2003, United Nations agencies adopted the Statement on a Common Understanding of a Human Rights-based Approach to Development Cooperation. It stated that human rights standards must constitute the objective and guiding principles of development, and that the capacities of duty-bearers and rights-holders must be strengthened. In this context, a human rights approach to the post 2015 development agenda plays two pivotal roles. First, it adds value by providing support to development practices that are designed to realize human rights. And second, it changes values by modifying development goals and practices to ensure they respect and realize human rights.
Thus, the post 2015 agenda and all associated goals and targets must be people-centred and effectively address the numerous challenges that continue to prevent the fulfilment of human rights around the world. It must also reinforce the duty of States to use effectively and efficiently leverage available resources to create the proper environment for the achievement of those rights.
While an individual’s own State, working at both national and international levels, must remain the primary duty bearer in development, all development actors – including third party States, the private sector and international institutions – should be made responsive and accountable for achieving these human rights goals. The post 2015 development framework must be designed as a tool that empowers and enables people individually and collectively to monitor and hold their government, other governments, businesses, international institutions and other development actors to account for their conduct as it affect people’s lives within and beyond borders. The post 2015 framework must integrate meaningful institutions and systems to ensure human rights accountability of all development actors, of all development actors. Moreover, for a global development partnership to have real meaning, international post 2015 accountability mechanisms must not be limited to monitoring national outcomes and policy efforts. As recently observed during the global financial and economic crises, constraints preventing countries from achieving their development commitments are often rooted in policy decisions taken by other States in their capacity as donors, trading partners or members of inter-governmental institutions. The obligations of these states to respect, protect and fulfil human rights beyond their borders must de included within the remit of global accountability mechanisms set up under the new framework. The degree to which States are supporting or undermining the human rights, including the right to development, of people in other countries must therefore be monitored.
From the consultations held during the sixth session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development, it is clear that there is a universal demand for human rights to be at the centre of the new post 2015 development agenda. Such an approach can serve as an instrument for people and countries to help dismantle the structural obstacles to sustainable, inclusive and just development, prevent conflict, build peace and stimulate the realization of all human rights. It is the duty of the international community to respond to this call so that a rights-based post 2015 development agenda becomes a reality.