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Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

It is increasingly recognized that human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a proxy for certain economic and social rights but ignored other important human rights linkages. By contrast, human rights principles and standards are now strongly reflected in an ambitious new global development framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In September 2015, 170 world leaders gathered at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda. The new Agenda covers a broad set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 167 targets and will serve as the overall framework to guide global and national development action for the next 15 years.

The SDGs are the result of the most consultative and inclusive process in the history of the United Nations. Grounded in international human rights law, the agenda offers critical opportunities to further advance the realization of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination.

How are the SDGs different?

Universal: While the MDGs applied only to so-called ‘developing countries’, the SDGs are a truly universal framework and will be applicable to all countries. All countries have progress to make in the path towards sustainable development, and face both common and unique challenges to achieving the many dimensions of sustainable development captured in the SDGs.

Transformative: As an agenda for “people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership”, the 2030 Agenda offers a paradigm shift from the traditional model of development. It provides a transformative vision for people and planet-centred, human rights-based, and gender-sensitive sustainable development that goes far beyond the narrow vision of the MDGs.

Comprehensive: Alongside a wide range of social, economic and environmental objectives, the 2030 Agenda promises “more peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence” with attention to democratic governance, rule of law, access to justice and personal security (in Goal 16), as well as an enabling international environment (in Goal 17 and throughout the framework). It therefore covers issues related to all human rights, including economic, civil, cultural, political, social rights and the right to development.

Inclusive: The new Agenda strives to leave no-one behind, envisaging “a world of universal respect for equality and non-discrimination” between and within countries, including gender equality, by reaffirming the responsibilities of all States to “respect, protect and promote human rights, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national and social origin, property, birth, disability or other status.”

Moving forward
OHCHR has made a strong contribution to the integration of human rights throughout the process to define the SDGs and will seek to ensure that strategies and policies to implement the 2030 Agenda are human rights-based.

In this regard, it will be crucial to ensure that the 2030 Agenda is implemented with the support of the necessary resources and political commitment. Effective accountability mechanisms, addressing the duties of States as well as the private sector, should be established. The Addis Ababa Agenda for Action, adopted at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July 2015, provides the basis for a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development. The latter document outlines the resources - financial and other - and the partnerships, needed to achieve the SDGs.

As currently planned, reviews of national and regional SDG progress will be supported by regular global reviews of overall progress at the High Level Political Forum. In line with the promise of the 2030 Agenda to ‘leave no one behind’, monitoring efforts should assess progress in achieving results for all people. This will require disaggregated data that clearly reveals the situation of the most disadvantaged groups and those groups affected by discrimination. To response to this data challenge, associated opportunities and risks, human rights-based approaches to data and statistics will be essential. Monitoring should focus on the progressive reduction of inequalities over time at the local, national, regional and global levels, and linkages with the international human rights mechanisms should be strengthened.

Key messages

Key OHCHR statements

Additional reference material