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Social accountability efforts seek better national and global economic governance


Any post-2015 global development framework must accommodate these demands


By Rick Rowden, CESR Research Consultant

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have placed a spotlight on the need to improve governance at both the domestic and global levels as a precondition for progress on development and poverty eradication. However, among the areas least adequately addressed by the MDGs to date have been the serious accountability deficits in the international economic governance system and how these issues can negatively impact national development efforts in poor countries. In particular, the MDGs process has neglected the contradictions between donor states’ international human rights and development commitments, on the one hand, and their policies and practice on international economic issues such as sovereign debt, aid, tax, trade and financial regulation, on the other. In these areas, MDG Goal 8, “Building a global partnership for development”, was supposed to be used to hold donor countries accountable to their aid commitments, yet in practice there was little accountability of donor states’ actions in these other areas of the global economic architecture.

From a human rights perspective, MDG 8 failed to address economic relations between states from the perspective of their obligations to respect, protect and help fulfill human rights beyond their borders. Currently 160 countries have made concrete obligations to ensure the realization of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights, with such obligations enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in a number of other human rights treaties at the regional and universal levels, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). As part of such obligations, parties to the ICESCR and other treaties have committed themselves to achieving progressively the full realization of these rights. Because it lacked a basis in human rights, MDG 8 failed to provide effective mechanisms for recipients to hold donor countries accountable to their development aid commitments, or for their obligations to fulfill rights under the treaties, including the human rights of those beyond their borders who are impacted by actions taken by countries in the international economic system.

As the international community engages in efforts to design frameworks for a new post-2015 global development paradigm, it must address these shortcomings in accountability on international economic issues and include new measures to address the need for global economic governance reforms. These measures must include: re-regulating global and national financial systems; restructuring the foreign aid system; restructuring global trade rules; establishing an international sovereign debt restructuring system; and addressing the need to stop international tax evasion and illicit financial flows.

Fortunately, people around the world are already mobilizing to support national and international advocacy efforts on some of these issues and are demanding that donor countries take steps to make sure they are addressed in any post-2015 global development framework. These include efforts to strengthen social accountability mechanisms by drawing from internationally recognized principles and concepts in human rights, such as participation, transparency and accountability, to address several of the most problematic features of the current global aid, trade and finance systems that went neglected by the MDGs. Not only must any post-2015 framework address these international economic governance issues, but it must also support the establishment of new mechanisms and procedures by which citizens and CSOs can regularly engage in public policy and economic policy decisions as necessary to achieve effective accountability at all levels of policy-making up to the level of international economic governance. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the institutional position of CESR