Key report to General Assembly outlines Secretary General's vision of 'a world we have a right to expect'
The UN has just released the Secretary General’s report to the forthcoming General Assembly on progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and recommendations for what should replace them in 2015. The report, entitled “A life of dignity for all,” is a powerful and timely endorsement of the need to follow up the MDGs with a holistic and transformative framework of development commitments anchored in the universal fulfillment of human rights.
Echoing the central premise that has motivated CESR’s advocacy and analysis over the last two years, the report asserts that ending poverty is “a matter of basic justice and human rights”. It includes a welcome recognition that freedom from fear and want are inseparable, and that human rights encompass the economic and social dimensions of human well-being. “No person should go hungry, lack shelter or clean water and sanitation, face social and economic exclusion or live without access to basic health services and education”, says the Secretary General. “These are human rights, and form the foundations for a decent life.”
Many of its specific recommendations capture those made by CESR and the organizations with whom we have been working to secure human rights at the core of the renewed development agenda. It calls for the sustainable development agenda to be universal, rights-based and supported by rigorous accountability mechanisms. It states that promoting decent employment, ensuring decent wages, strengthening social protection and putting in place redistributive policies are a prerequisite for achieving the existing Goals and must be the basis of inclusive growth in the future. The report is also strong on the need for more effective global governance and for a stronger commitment by wealthier states to follow through on aid, trade and debt relief commitments, as well as cracking down on illicit capital flows, and stemming tax avoidance and evasion, which is a significant drain on countries’ resources in both the North and South.
It calls for particular attention to the rights of the most vulnerable and excluded, such as women, children, the elderly, indigenous people, refugees and displaced families, as well as people with disabilities, recognizing that discrimination and denial of human rights are often an underlying cause of disparities and inequalities. It calls for action to tackle exclusion and inequality in all its forms, with particular emphasis on ensuring the equal rights of women and girls, including in the economic and social spheres, as well as action to tackle discrimination against migrants and income inequality.
The report recognizes that “human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law and transparent institutions are outcomes and enablers of development”, and that lasting peace and sustainable development cannot be fully realized without respect for human rights, transparency and accountability, including ensuring citizens’ involvement in policymaking and oversight in the use of public resources. It calls for a renewed focus on more equitable forms of mobilizing domestic resources, including by broadening the tax base and improving tax administration, and improving corporate and public governance of extractive industries in resource-rich countries. It also calls for a robust framework for international development financing, which should include commitments to eliminate illicit financial flows and to enhance the regulation of secrecy jurisdictions. Echoing CESR's particular concerns about accountability, the report states that the success of such commitments “depends on assigning roles, responsibilities and clear accountability” for all actors involved, including international financial institutions and the private sector.
Perhaps the most welcome aspect of the Secretary General’s report is its responsiveness to the calls which human rights and social justice groups in all corners of the globe have been voicing. “People across the world are demanding more responsive governments and better governance and rights at all levels. We have heard their calls for peace and justice, eradicating poverty, realizing rights, eliminating inequality, enhancing accountability and preserving our planet.” Human rights are not just referenced rhetorically in his proposals – they are recognized as the purpose of the post-2015 framework, as well as the principles that sustain it. “Ultimately, the aspiration of the development agenda beyond 2015 is to create a just and prosperous world where all people realize their rights and live with dignity and hope.” For such a sustainable development agenda to take root, the Secretary General argues that the international community must agree “a far-reaching vision of the future firmly anchored in human rights and universally accepted values and principles, including those encapsulated in the Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Declaration”, as well as “a participatory monitoring framework for tracking progress and mutual accountability mechanisms for all stakeholders.”
Strong monitoring and accountability, the Secretary General recognizes, will be crucial for the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda, and can be strengthened through the direct engagement of citizens and improving data collection, dissemination and analysis, including efforts to capture gaps within and between population groups and to assess the quality of outcomes. Goals, targets and metrics to measure their achievement should take into account human rights and inequality in a cross-cutting manner.
With this report, the Secretary General has raised the level of debate and expectation around the role of human rights in the post-2015 development agenda. When they come together at this September’s General Assembly, member states will need to roll up their sleeves, team up with civil society worldwide, and get to the hard work of implementing the resounding call for a universal agenda with human rights-centered sustainable development at its core, and undertake the profound transformations required to build “the just, prosperous and sustainable world that people want and have a right to expect”.