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Presentation by Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Human Rights: Foundation for progress on the MDGs, Conference organized by Amnesty International and Realizing Rights -New York, 10 June 2010, The Ford Foundation, New York, NY

Mrs. Robinson, former High Commissioner for Human Rights, distinguished panellists, colleagues and friends, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured and pleased to be invited here today, to be a part of the discussion on human rights as a foundation for progress on the MDGs.  On behalf of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I wish to express our gratitude to Amnesty International and Realizing Rights for organizing this important event, and for their active role in promoting a vision of inclusive development and human dignity.

Over the last years, we have witnessed the powerful role that the MDGs have played in shaping national development agendas and in mobilizing international cooperation efforts. However, ten years after the adoption of the Millennium Declaration, the picture is one of uneven progress in the realization of the MDGs. While many countries are on track to reaching some of the goals, many others - in particular less developed countries and fragile states - are lagging behind.   Furthermore, even in countries scoring major successes, large disparities still persist, with millions of people left behind.
As world leaders prepare to gather in New York in September this year, to review progress in reaching the MDGs, it has become clear that countries that have pursued human rights hand-in-hand with development have the most progress to report on, and stand a better chance of reaching these goals by the target date of 2015.
This is because human rights and development policies are mutually reinforcing.  Although they may have different strategies and tools, ultimately, both are intended to pursue the same objective of promoting and ensuring human well-being and dignity.

There is widespread consensus that economic growth is an essential condition for meeting the MDGs, as well as for the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. However, in many countries, while economic growth strategies have lifted some people out of poverty, they have failed to redress the situation of the poorest of the poor. As a result, millions of people are still left trapped in extreme poverty, hunger and disease. The reasons for this are complex, exacerbated in many countries by weak governance systems, unpredictable aid flows, and the negative impacts of recent financial, food and fuel crises.

In his recent report for the MDG Review Summit, ‘Keeping the Promise’, the UN Secretary-General underscores the point that economic growth is a necessary, but insufficient condition for progress on the MDGs. He identifies a number of factors for accelerated progress, which resonate strongly with human rights. This includes the need to strengthen national ownership by developing the capacity of States to address inequality and social exclusion, and ensure universal access to social services and social protection.  Furthermore, the fundamental norms and values embedded in international human rights instruments should – in the Secretary-General’s words – “provide the foundation for engagement, in particular the key human rights principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation and accountability.”   Allow me to elaborate a bit about each of these principles.

As to the first key principle of non-discrimination, incorporating a human rights perspective in national MDG strategies means analyzing and redressing the underlying root causes of development problems. Typically these relate to persistent patterns of disempowerment, discrimination and exclusion which result in certain groups being left behind in the development process.

In this regard, States and policy-makers should adopt adequate measures to properly identify the poorest and most marginalized groups, namely through disaggregating global average MDG targets and indicators, and ensuring that their human rights are protected and addressed. Countries such as Ecuador and Thailand have adjusted their MDG targets and indicators, in order to better capture the situation of groups that are frequently subject to discrimination, such as women, indigenous minorities and Afro-descendents.   Without disaggregated data, marginalized groups remain invisible and continue to be left out of consideration in policy and budget responses. This can only further widen exclusion and the inequality gap.

The second key human rights principle noted by the Secretary-General is the need for ‘meaningful participation’.  This is to ensure that people living in extreme poverty and others who are frequently left out of the development process become active participants and not mere recipients. But while having the “space” for participation is a pre-requisite, this is not enough. An enabling legal, policy and institutional environment as well as some basic capacities for participation are also critical.  In other words, individuals, in particular the poorest and the most marginalized, should be empowered so that they can claim their rights and participate actively in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of national development strategies.  Further experiences in fighting poverty through participatory approaches in countries such as Brazil and Uganda show us that States must be willing to share pertinent information with all stakeholders, in a clear and accessible manner.  

The third key human rights principle highlighted by the Secretary-General’s report is that of accountability. Indeed, the weakness of the MDG accountability system has been identified as one of the contributing factors in the slow progress towards the achievement of the MDGs. Human rights offers a framework for strengthened accountability by clarifying the duties and responsibilities of governments, donor countries and other non-governmental actors – which in turn will ensure more commitment and transparency in national and international efforts towards the achievement of the MDGs.

In concrete terms, this means that national development strategies should aim at conjoining human rights and MDG accountability systems.  For example, poverty reduction strategies and MDG-based policies would benefit greatly from the involvement of human rights institutions and non-governmental stakeholders in monitoring and evaluation. This is the case in Kenya, where the national human rights commission has been monitoring the policy efforts with regard to the implementation of national water and sanitation targets. 

At the level of international human rights mechanisms, the Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, as well as treaty monitoring bodies have reviewed national efforts to achieving the MDGs.   These various channels of dialogue between governments and the UN human rights mechanisms can result in more operational guidance and a better documentation of ‘best practices’ in integrating human rights in development work.

Finally, the accountability of development partners under MDG 8 needs strengthening.  While States bear the primary responsibility for their own development and the realization of human rights, meeting the MDGs will require strengthened international cooperation, which is a human rights obligation for all States.  Actions of global actors must conform to their specific human rights responsibilities, which are clearly spelled out in the UN Charter and the international human rights regime, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Right to Development.

Let me conclude by noting that we need to work together in the coming weeks and months to ensure that the MDG Summit and its outcome are anchored in human rights principles and values.  In this regard, I am very encouraged that States welcomed and supported the High Commissioner’s recent call, made during her opening statement to the 14th session of the Human Rights Council on 1 June, for the integration of human rights in the MDG Summit.  She reminded everyone that the Millennium Declaration recognized that a denial of rights engenders or perpetuates dire conditions of exclusion and want including poverty.  In turn, poverty undermines basic human rights, such as access to food, to shelter, and to education.  It entrenches discrimination and marginalisation and makes it difficult for victims to obtain justice and remedies when their rights are violated.  In sum, poverty, discrimination and marginalization are both causes and effects of violations of economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights.   She added, “The MDGs did not call for lofty and vague commitments.  Rather, they envisaged plausible, applicable and actionable polities to be delivered by 2015.”
With the continuing and concerted endeavors of all here, I am sure that human rights will be prominent at the MDG Summit, and that the human rights community will be accorded a central role in the MDG implementation for the remaining period of five years as well as in the design of the post 2015 development architecture. 

Thank you.