Strong demand for human rights in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals
6th Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, 9-13 December 2013
The 6th session of the OWG in December 2013 addressed, inter alia, “Human rights, including right to development, and global governance”. Upon invitation by the Co-Chairs of the OWG, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, delivered a keynote speech on behalf of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 13 December 2013, which was followed by interventions from 32 member states and regional groups. The speech was received very positively and subsequent OWG discussions reflected strong support for many human rights issues that the High Commissioner had called for in her Open Letter and her speech. There was an emerging convergence among member states from across regions that:
- Human rights should be integrated across all goals, targets and indicators rather than adopting a stand-alone goal. The agenda should address both freedom from want (poverty eradication and advancement of economic and social rights) and freedom from fear (access to justice, democratic participation and rights, and personal security), for all persons without discrimination.
- A human rights based approach, with the right to development at its centre, should be applied to the framework.
- Poverty eradication is a human rights imperative.
- Economic and social rights, including the rights to health, education, food, water and sanitation, decent work, housing and others must be integrated.
- Access to justice, democratic political rights and participation, and personal security, are crucial for the new development agenda.
- A global partnership for development must include strengthened international cooperation, measures for reform of the international system to ensure greater equity and coherence with human rights considerations, including with regard to aid, trade, debt, intellectual property, and the removal of obstacles to development between countries such as those listed in the Declaration on the Right to Development.
- Inequalities across social groups and income groups within countries as well as between countries must be addressed through both a stand-alone goal and disaggregation and targets in all other goals. Explicit attention is needed to groups that are most vulnerable, excluded, marginalized or disempowered, among them women and girls, migrants, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, children and youth, minorities and others.
- Human rights can help ensure effective implementation and accountability for progress towards post-2015 goals.
During the OWG’s 6th session, OHCHR also organised a side event entitled “More than just a vision: How to Integrate Human Rights into the Post-2015 Agenda”, a panel discussion with representatives of the governments of Ghana and Ecuador as well as the Center for Economic and Social Rights. The audience of around 100 people included CSOs, permanent missions, UN agencies and representatives of business. The Deputy Permanent Representative of Ecuador emphasised that the new agenda should have an explicit focus on overcoming inequalities, discrimination and social exclusion, emphasising, for example, the rights of persons with disabilities. A representative of the Office of the President of Ghana shared concrete experiences of his country, emphasising how Ghana had fully integrated human rights into its Constitution and provided for clear enforcement mechanisms, including the Supreme Court. He emphasised that the post-2015 agenda should ensure a strong accountability framework with enforceability of human rights. The accountability of the private sector must also be included.
8th Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, 3-7 February 2014
The 8th session of the OWG included, inter alia, the thematic issues of equality, social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment. There was a high level of convergence among Member States that the new development agenda must reduce inequalities, both within and between countries, and must address the needs of vulnerable groups such as women, minorities, migrants, indigenous people and persons with disabilities. Inequalities were also acknowledged as drivers of conflict.
During the 8th session, OHCHR also held a high level side event entitled “Addressing inequalities in the SDGs: A human rights imperative for effective poverty eradication”, which was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Brazil and Finland and organised in coordination with UNICEF, UN Women and UNDP. The High Commissioner gave a keynote speech at this event, as highlighted in our webstory.
The 8th session of the OWG also covered the issues of conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, the rule of law, and governance. While several countries suggested that the SDGs should address both conflict and governance / rule of law, others were in favour of including only one or none of these areas. Those in favour of including rule of law and governance agreed that progress on these areas was now measurable but also stressed that capacity development in general, and in particular on measurement, will be critical. Aspects of governance and rule of law that were highlighted as critical included key areas of civil and political rights such as public participation, including the rights to information and freedom of expression, access to justice and personal security. Many OWG members also stressed the importance of rule of law at the global level, including through reform of international institutions.