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The Millennium Development Goals and Post-2015 Agenda

Human Rights and Post-2015 Development Agenda

Human rights are essential to achieving and sustaining development, which in turn will promote the fuller realization of human rights. The Millennium Declaration, adopted by the world’s leaders in 2000 recognized the essential linkages between human rights and development. Yet, despite this acknowledgement, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were not adequately aligned with human rights and did not give sufficient attention to discrimination and inequalities (for more on the MDGs see here). The UN General Assembly’s High-level Plenary Meeting on the MDGs (The MDGs Summit) in 2010 reaffirmed that common fundamental values, including freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, and respect for all human rights were essential for achieving the MDGs.

This commitment was reaffirmed by Member States in the 2012 Rio+20 Conference Outcome Document, where states emphasized their responsibilities “to respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status”. They also stressed the need to reduce inequalities and foster social inclusion and acknowledged that democracy, good governance and the rule of law, at the national and international levels, are “essential for sustainable development, including sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, environmental protection and the eradication of poverty and hunger.”

Following the Rio+20 Conference, the UN intergovernmental Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prepared a proposal for the post-2015 development goals and targets. The July 2014 Outcome Document of the OWG contained 17 global goals and 169 corresponding targets, which are intended to be the basis for a transformative and universal post-2015 development agenda that leaves no one behind. Key human rights elements, including the right to development, are mainstreamed across many goals and targets, including important elements of human rights obligations (e.g. socio-economic goals respond to the requirements of ESCR on availability, accessibility, affordability, quality), a strong emphasis on equality and non-discrimination, explicit attention to marginalised groups, and a target requiring the broader disaggregation of data. The framework balances the emphasis on freedom from want with issues related to freedom from fear, including targets on key civil and political rights issues. It also includes targets particularly relevant for the right to development, including democratising global governance institutions and ensuring greater policy coherence and policy space.

The Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report of December 2014 calls for a universal, human rights-based post-2015 agenda, and proposes that all elements of the new agenda be fully consistent with international law, and fully coherent with international human rights standards. It includes explicit references to economic and social rights, civil and political rights, and the right to development, non-discrimination, personal security, labour rights, justice, democratic governance, free expressions, association, assembly, the right to privacy, press freedoms. Importantly, it calls for an analysis that recognizes that the problems we are confronting (poverty, inequality, climate change, etc.) are not accidents of nature, but rather the results of actions and omissions by actors in the public and private sectors. Accountability (not just between states, but by all to people) is prescribed, as is norm-based policy coherence in the fields of trade, finance, investment, and intellectual property. In this respect, the report references the Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights, and calls for a universal periodic review system for the SDGs (modelled after the UPR of the HRC).

Governments are negotiating the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the SDGs, which will be adopted by Heads of State during the 70th session of the General Assembly in September 2015. It will be critical to ensure that the post-2015 development framework is a truly universal and balanced agenda that is applicable to all; that addresses the freedom from want and from fear; that is consistent and aligned with all human rights, that addresses pervasive inequalities and dismantles discrimination, that is built on strong accountability mechanisms and a renewed strong and equitable global partnership, and an agenda that fosters policy coherence and allows free and meaningful participation for all.

Governments are also negotiating the outcome of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) in Addis Ababa in July 2015, which will be critical for a successful outcome for the Post-2015 process, and in particular for the “Means of Implementation” component of the final post-2015 outcome document.

From a human rights perspective, delivering a human rights-based Post-2015 Development Agenda will require inter alia:

  • A powerful Declaration that is explicitly grounded in international human rights standards and principles, including the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • All goals, targets and indicators should be closely aligned with existing international human rights standards
  • The full set of 17 Goals should be retained to ensure a “home” for all civil, cultural, economic, political, social rights, the right to development, fundamental freedoms and democratic governance
  • All goals should be universally applicable to all States, and common criteria should be adopted for the national adaptation of targets
  • The imperative of equality and non-discrimination should underpin the entire framework, so that no one is left behind
  • Full reflection of human rights for all, including women and girls, indigenous peoples, minorities, migrants, older people and persons with disabilities
  • Clear, time-bound and measurable targets for the global partnership including reforms of global economic governance, in line with the right to development
  • A strong monitoring and review framework that ensures accountability of all relevant actors
  • Accountability of private sector should be ensured, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  • A forward looking, human rights-based approach to the ‘data revolution’ for post-2015 monitoring and measurement

A strong measurement and indicators framework will also be critical for the post-2015 development agenda to ensure a robust monitoring of progress and that all peoples will benefit from development without discrimination. MDG monitoring focussed on national averages, whether in the field of economics or to aid policymaking on the provision of healthcare, education or social services. 

However, averages, by their very nature, mask disparities and are inadequate as a measure of progress. SDG monitoring will focus attention on the imperative to ’leave no one behind’, and therefore indicators to measure progress towards the SDGs must include disaggregation and a clear focus on the most marginalized and vulnerable members of society. SDG data collection should capture not only national averages or aggregate statistics, but also the situation of the most disadvantaged or deprived, inequalities between social groups, as well as identifying discrimination that persists in laws, policies and practices.

There is a need for a ‘data revolution’ for data disaggregation and targeted data collection to capture the situation of the most disadvantaged groups and the groups affected by discrimination, including multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Data revolution must be an inclusive and transparent process, which involves not only statistical experts but also civil society organisations, national human rights institutions, service providers and, most importantly, marginalised populations themselves.

What is OHCHR’s role in the Post-2015 Process?

OHCHR contributes to the Post-2015 process in three main ways:

  • Public advocacy: OHCHR engages in public debates and consultations on the parameters of the new agenda, and on its human rights implications, including through organizing public events and meetings with member states, civil society and other key stakeholders.
  • Policy and technical support: OHCHR engages as an active member of the Secretary General’s Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the UN Technical Support Team, which provide substantive and technical support on key issues and on the indicators framework to member states in the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations and processes.
  • Research and publications: OHCHR conducts background research on key aspects of the post-2015 agenda that are most critical from a human rights perspective, and develops key messages and publications to influence the debate e.g. on the accountability framework that will need to underpin the new goals (see OHCHR/CESR, 2013, “Who Will Be Accountable?”) and the way in which progress on the new goals can be measured (see OHCHR 2012, “Human Rights Indicators”).

OHCHR Key Messages on Post-2015 and Human Rights