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Supporting Asia-Pacific rights institutions to engage with MDGs

October 17th, 2012

With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals rapidly approaching, the picture across the Asia Pacific region looks mixed. There has been ‘some disappointing failures, some narrow misses, and some striking successes’. The region has some of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet 1.8 billion of its people continue to live in poverty.

The importance of harnessing the synergies between the human rights agenda and the goal of just and sustainable development is widely recognized. But translating this recognition into concrete changes in the practice of development actors has proven much more difficult. In response, the United Nations Development Program recently released a publication entitled Accelerating Achievement of MDGs by Ways and Means of Economic and Social Rights, which brings together human rights and development experts to analyze how human rights can better inform the development agenda. The case studies it contains focus on the Asia-Pacific region, but the lessons learned are applicable to all regions of the world.

CESR contributed a chapter to the publication, elucidating the key role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in promoting rights-based development. The chapter explains how the bridging functions NHRIs play, by virtue of their unique positioning between the state, civil society and the international human rights system, may strengthen the mutually reinforcing aspects of the MDGs and human rights. It also unpacks the various ways in which these institutions can offer government incentives for (and disincentives for not) adopting strategies that better achieve just development. While there is much reason to be optimistic about the potential of NHRIs to help foment rights-based development, the chapter also recognizes that expectations need to be realistic and suggests ways to respond to the challenges facing NHRIs in addressing economic, social and cultural rights.

One particular challenge CESR is helping NHRIs address is how to produce stronger and more methodologically rigorous monitoring of governments’ compliance with their obligation to fulfil economic, social and cultural rights. CESR is working in partnership with the Asia Pacific Forum, a network of NHRIs in the region, to train its members in using CESR’s newly-published OPERA Framework. So called because it triangulates Outcomes, Policy Efforts and Resources to deliver a final Assessment, OPERA presents a simple but comprehensive process to analyze compliance with the obligation to fulfill. CESR’s collaboration with the APF is also addressing the tools and techniques that underpin the framework so as to ensure NHRIs in the region can deploy it to its full potential when performing their mandated functions. These include carrying out human rights audits; reporting on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals; monitoring the implementation of judicial decisions related to human rights; or assessing the human rights impact of prospective legislation, trade agreements or economic policy reforms. With these skills, APF members will be able to produce analyses highlighting when laws and policies create, perpetuate or exacerbate deprivations of ESC rights. In July CESR and the APF held a capacity building workshop with staff of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission and their partner organizations in Wellington. Together, we are supporting the Commission in monitoring the extent to which the earthquake recovery efforts in Christchurch have advanced residents’ right to adequate housing.

Photo of leprosy sufferer with family in East Timor courtesy of Martine Perrett/UN Photo.