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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. The Millennium Declaration, adopted by all the world’s leaders in 2000 recognized the essential linkages between human rights and development. Despite this acknowledgment, 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, respect for all human rights, respect for nature and shared responsibility, are 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.”

With only two years left until the MDGs expire, these human rights commitments need to be honoured as progress is accelerated to ensure the full implementation of the MDGs.

In addition, as governments are starting to draft the development agenda that will follow the MDGs, it will be essential to ensure that the post-2015 development framework be 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.

The Post-2015 Agenda – growing demands for the inclusion of human rights

Consistent and growing demand for human rights in the Post-2015 Development Agenda – key milestones

In 2012, the UN Secretary-General initiated a process to support member states in determining the post-2015 development framework. All key milestones in this process have reflected a strong, consistent and growing demand for human rights to be integrated fully in the post-2015 development agenda:

  • In June 2012, the Secretary General’s UN Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, of which OHCHR is an active member, delivered its report “Realising the future we want for all. The report argued that the post-2015 agenda should be built on the foundations of human rights, equality and sustainability.
  • In March 2013, in an effort to ensure broader participation of all stakeholders, the UN Development Group (UNDG) facilitated over 80 national consultations and 11 global thematic consultations on key themes and carried out an online survey, MY World. Together with UNDP, OHCHR co-led the Global Consultation on Governance. The UNDG's first report "The Global Conversation Begins" highlighted that people have explicitly called for human rights principles (as a non-negotiable element) to be a central part of the future development agenda.
  • In May 2103, the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its report “A New Global Partnership.  The report stressed that “no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – should be denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities” and that “new goals and targets need to be grounded in respect for universal human rights”.
  • In June 2013, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (led by Jeffrey Sachs) issued its report An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development which called for a stand-alone goal in the new agenda on human rights, gender and social inclusion.
  • In June 2013, the High Commissioner issued an Open Letter to all Member States calling for a new universal and balanced development framework that addresses both “freedom fear and want for all without discrimination”. The latter sets out OHCHR’s 10 key messages on the post-2015 agenda, but calls for human rights to underpin the whole agenda, rather than being confined to one separate goal.
  • In July 2013, the Secretary-General’s report “A life of dignity for all” consolidated these inputs and highlighted that “no person anywhere should be left behind”. The report also stressed that “the post-2015 development agenda will need to be supported by a renewed global partnership grounded on the values of equity, solidarity and human rights.”
  • In September 2013, the Outcome Document of the “Special Event to follow up on efforts made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals” held during the high-level segment of UN General Assembly’s 68th Session reaffirmed “the importance of promoting human rights, good governance, the rule of law, transparency and accountability at all levels” and emphasised that the post-2015 agenda should promote “peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.”
  • In September, 2013, the UNDG's second report “A Million Voices: The World We Want” stressed that more than a million people around the world in the global and national consultations had called for human rights to underpin the new agenda, including addressing inequalities beyond national aggregates, addressing civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, and ensure strong accountability mechanisms.

Member states have also called for the integration of human rights in the Post-2015 Agenda:  An update on the intergovernmental process of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

The inter-governmental Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) was established by the Rio+20 Conference and consists of 30 seats shared by 70 member states.  Between March 2013 and February 2014, the OWG held eight thematic sessions on issues relevant to the post-2015 agenda (“stocktaking phase”). The Co-Chairs of the OWG summarised the discussions of this phase in a progress report.

On 13 December 2013 at the OWG’s 6th session, a day-long discussion on “Human rights, including right to development, and global governance” was held. During that session, the keynote speech of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was very well-received by member states.  The background documents submitted to the OWG, including an Issues Brief and a statistical note on human rights were also positively acknowledged (OHCHR co-led the drafting of these notes, as a member of the UN Task Team on Post-2015). The discussion among member states during that day of discussion reflected a strong cross-regional convergence on many aspects of human rights and strong recommendations to integrate human rights in the Sustainable Development Goals. Read more here.

At its 8th session, the OWG also discussed issues related to human rights, including questions around equality, social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as around conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, and the rule of law, and governance. Read more here.

The next phase of the OWG’s work will be a critical one. Between March and July 2014, the OWG will conclude its work by producing a proposal for Sustainable Development Goals for submission to the 69th session of the General Assembly in September 2014 (the so-called “consensus-building phase”). The basis for the OWG discussion in this phase is a list of “focus areas” proposed by the Co-Chairs. Intergovernmental negotiations will then be launched and will culminate in a summit of heads of state in September 2015 to adopt the post-2015 development agenda.

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

OHCHR engages in the post-2015 process as a member of the Secretary General’s Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the group through which UN agencies coordinate their support to the process.

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

  • Research, including publications and technical notes: OHCHR conducts research on aspects of the post-2015 agenda that are most critical from a human rights perspective, for example on the accountability framework that will need to underpin the new goals (see OHCHR, 2013, “Who Will Be Accountable?”) and the way in which progress on the new goals can be measured (see OHCHR 2012, “Human Rights Indicators”).
  • Engagement with key stakeholders: OHCHR provides technical support to member states, including members of the OWG, and engages with member states, civil society and other key stakeholders to promote the most effective means for integrating human rights within all aspects of the post-2015 development agenda, e.g. through consultations and public or expert events.
  • Communications and advocacy: OHCHR harnesses its own communications tools, as well as those of the UN system, at key milestone events in the post-2015 process to ensure that a human rights perspective is prominent.