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Placing human rights at the heart of development


Over the past 12 months some modest but critical headway has been made in efforts to bring human rights centre stage in the discourse of global development. With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) just a few years away, and the lack of progress towards many of the targets they contain becoming all to apparent, the need for a paradigm shift in how development is conceived and implemented is clearer than ever. Discussions on what a post-2015 agenda should look like are already underway, and it is crucial that lessons learnt from the MDG experience thus far be fully incorporated.

Global civil society coalitions such as GCAP and Beyond 2015, of which CESR is part, have been proposing visions of  "the world we want" in future years, and the essential elements that need to be reflected in the post-MDG set of commitments. If the failures of the previous framework are to be avoided, fundamental human rights principles such as accountability, participation and equality must form the foundation stones of the new agenda.

There have been some heartening developments in this regard. At the September 2010 MDG Review Summit, States recognized that human rights are indispensible to efforts to achieve the MDGs, which should be seen as a matter of entitlement for individuals and communities and as a matter of obligation for national authorities and the international community. This has been accompanied by an increased acknowledgement that the MDGs will not be met in the absence of effective mechanisms that hold parties to account for their performance. As the UN Secretary General affirmed: “The time has come for an accountability mechanism between developed and developing countries … and between Governments and their citizens, to ensure that MDG commitments are honoured”. The increased rhetorical commitment to human rights and accountability represents a major shift compared with earlier stages of the MDG process.

Discussions since the Summit have increasingly emphasized the need to integrate human rights criteria into assessments of progress and outcomes. New monitoring frameworks have been proposed for holding authorities accountable for their policy and fiscal efforts to meet the maternal and child health goals of MDGs 4 and 5. Other inter-governmental and non-governmental actors have increasingly called for accountability to be made a cornerstone of the MDGs rather than a casualty of the process, as has been the case until now. The imminent 2015 deadline and the process already underway to agree on a successor framework present a unique opportunity to adjust both the direction and pace of progress.

For CESR, there are three key issues that must be firmly integrated into the new development architecture to be decided over the coming years. Firstly, the failure of existing MDG strategies to address huge gender, ethnic and other disparities in development outcomes indicates that the new set of goals and indicators must include a more vigorous commitment to tackling inequality - in both rich and developing countries alike. Secondly, the  future framework must reflect the changed landscape since the MDGs were first adopted, including the factors which have fuelled the global economic, food and climate crises. The post-2015 development agenda must address the structural injustices of our global economic system head-on, and human rights can provide the ethical framework needed for this end. Lastly, no development framework can deliver sustainable and equitable progress if it does not ensure effective mechanisms for monitoring, accountability and meaningful participation.

The MDGs have been seriously undermined because there have been few consequences for non-fulfillment. What little accountability there has been—in the form of annual reviews and monitoring of indicators—has focused overwhelmingly on the responsibilities of recipient states to donors and the international community, rather than on governments’ duties to their own people. With this in mind, CESR has embarked on a project in partnership with the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights aimed at placing human rights accountability at the core of the post-2015 agenda.  ¨The MDGs: Who's Accountable?', to be launched in 2012, seeks to persuade key actors involved to address the accountability deficit as a matter of urgent priority. It identifies the accountability gaps in the current process and proposes how human rights standards, instruments and mechanisms can help to address them. A consultation meeting on the future of the MDGs convened by CESR and OHCHR in November drew on the perspectives of human rights and development practitioners from inter-governmental organizations, NGOs and academic institutions, as well as other civil society organizations and social justice networks engaged with the MDGs.  

CESR will continue to press for broad and inclusive participation in the process of shaping the post-2015 development agenda. As CESR board members Alicia Yamin and Sakiko Fukuda-Parr argue in a recent opinion piece:

"Consultations cannot be just ad-hoc gatherings that lend a patina of participation to pre-determined outcomes; civil society voices must be incorporated into national negotiating positions.  Deciding what the post MDG agenda will look like cannot be a technocratic process about refining targets and indicators; setting a new development agenda is an opportunity to catalyze broader democratic deliberations on what kind of world we want, and what we owe to each other as human beings."