Human Rights & Development

Forging a Human Rights-Development Alliance for Transforming the MDGs

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) represent the first-ever global framework and partnership for development, and World Bank and UN reports on progress indicate that the MDGs have been instrumental in focusing donors and governments on a set of priority actions. However, while there has been progress in some areas, reports also indicate that there are still enduring pockets of poverty for some regions and for marginalized populations in particular. For example, in countries like Brazil, Thailand, Lithuania, and Kuwait, which are excelling at meeting their MDG targets, vulnerable communities including indigenous peoples, women, and racial and ethnic minorities, continue to be lag behind.

The 2015 deadline for meeting the MDGs is fast approaching. Both the development and human rights communities have pointed out where the MDGs have fallen short as a comprehensive strategy for breaking the chains of poverty worldwide. Many from the development community have zeroed in on the narrowness of some of the MDGs’ 18 outcome targets and on the omission of key areas, particularly reproductive health and a broader rights-based framework. Similarly, from the human rights community, a major critique is that the MDGs offer limited accountability and do not reflect rigorous human rights standards, particularly with respect to economic, social and cultural rights standards as well as non-discrimination, equality and participation. As it stands currently, human rights standards remain almost entirely disconnected from the MDG framework. While there is reference to human rights in the Millennium Development Declaration, the human rights framework, and obligations related to ESC rights, does not permeate the spirit and fabric of the MDGs themselves.

To achieve real breakthroughs in poverty alleviation, it is important to learn from these critiques, so that the next articulation of the millennium development agenda post-2015 is as robust and successful as possible. Without have the right to development as the core of post-2015 development framework and without incorporating a rights-based approach, attempts to advance human development have limited power to deeply and meaningfully transform societies. We know that human rights standards and obligations are critically important in the context of human development because they ensure that development and poverty eradication efforts reflect relevant human rights standards. They also ensure accountability for powerful actors who play a role in development and facilitate empowerment for the ultimate beneficiaries, or rights-holders, of development. Rights-based approaches to development also prioritize the needs of vulnerable and marginalized groups who face social exclusion and ensure their meaningful participation in planning, implementing and monitoring development. From the standpoint of aid effectiveness, human rights standards and principles also contribute to a development framework that better achieves development targets and goals, and in a much timelier manner, and with more sustainable results.

A golden opportunity looms on the horizon. The year 2013 will see the next UN Summit on the MDGs, and it is at that Summit where many key decisions will be made about the global development agenda post-2015. Therefore, the time between now and 2013 is absolutely critical as governments around the world gear up to re-define the post-2015 MDG agenda. This process is too important not to be informed by civil society, and the time for action by human rights and development actors is now. This is the moment for new breakthroughs in approaches that address both people’s needs and political constraints, leading ultimately to achieving the shared goal of increasing human dignity and reducing poverty around the world.

The Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights works with networks of human rights and development organizations. We seek to use this position to help bridge the gap between these complementary sectors so that together they can have real and meaningful impact on the development framework, including the post-2015 MDG framework.

Read the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights article Falling Short of Our Goals: Transforming the Millennium Development Goals into Millennium Development Rights

Read the Statement of the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to the UN Human Rights Council’s 2011 Social Forum on the Right to Development

Read the Report of the UN Human Rights Council’s 2011 Social Forum

Read the Letter to Rio+20 from UN Special Procedures