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“Without human rights, Millennium Goals will fail,” say UN Human Rights Experts

GENEVA (17 September 2010) – “The Heads of State gathering in New York next week should bear in mind that, if they really want to eliminate poverty, they must be guided by human rights,” said 26 experts* of the UN Human Rights Council in anticipation of the High Level Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.

“The agreed Summit Outcome Document** makes several references to human rights. Its implementation must have a stronger focus on human rights not only to ensure the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, but to also make them meaningful for the billions of people who need them most,” the experts argued.

“We have to move from a top-down, statistics-driven, charity-based approach to one that focuses on rights and entitlements.”

Key to achieve the Millennium Goals
Compliance with human rights standards is not only an obligation for States, but it is also crucial for the achievement of the Goals (MDGs). “Meaningful participation and empowerment, equality and non-discrimination, accountability and transparency are central features of the human rights-based approach to development, which emphasizes sustainable progress.” the experts said.

“Strong national legal frameworks, built through participatory processes, would remove the stigma of charity and empower the poor to be full actors in development, rather than passive recipients of aid. Accountability mechanisms must allow victims of human rights abuses to hold those responsible to account for their actions, or their failure to act.”

“All of the Goals, and especially those on gender equality and maternal mortality, require full realization of women’s human rights, including to justice and protection,” emphasized the experts. “Ensuring the right to social security contributes to progress towards multiple Goals, by enabling people to access food, healthcare, housing, water, sanitation, and education.”

Going beyond the Goals
The experts pointed out that several Millennium Goals only aim to reduce by half, or by two-thirds, the number of people suffering. “Human rights demand constant efforts to ensure everyone enjoys rights without discrimination - we cannot be satisfied with half measures.”

For instance, halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015 is the first goal. “There are more people hungry today than when the Goals were adopted,” the experts warned, “but even if this target were met, over 400 million people would still be undernourished. They cannot be left behind.”

“Focusing on aggregate progress risks masking inequality. Averages and aggregates give States incentives to focus on those easily reached rather than on marginalized people. This could exacerbate exclusion. Progress towards the MDGs should aim to correct discrimination, not reinforce it.”

Some groups – children, minorities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, internally displaced persons and those who face racial or religious discrimination – too often find themselves forgotten. Poverty gaps will increase unless programmes such as those to achieve the MDGs address the unique circumstances of these groups and the causes and effects of the discrimination that limits access to education or jobs.

“Development efforts must respect cultural rights and diversity,” argued the experts. “Only close monitoring of their situation can reveal the disadvantages faced by such groups so programmes can be shaped in response.”

Filling the gaps
The Goals also fail to capture improvements urgently needed. The MDGs target on water, for example, measures whether people have access to an improved water source, but does not measure water quality. “Nearly a billion people still lack access to an improved water source, but 2 to 3 billion may be drinking unsafe water,” noted the experts. Equally, universalizing primary education would be insufficient if quality remains poor.

The MDGs also foresee “improving” the lives of slum dwellers, but this is often translated into slum clearances. “Security of tenure for slum dwellers should be the key approach, not forced evictions,” they argued.

Human rights, not charity
“Significant progress has been made on the achievement of a number of MDGs, but much more needs to be done. A focus on human rights is needed to tackle the structural problems – at both national and international levels - that underpin and sustain the poverty and underdevelopment whose effects the Goals try to alleviate,” the experts noted.

“The Millennium Goals are laudable political commitments and have been useful in mobilizing money and energy. But States can achieve these goals sustainably only if they are guided by human rights obligations that define which actions should be taken by whom,” emphasized the experts.

“All human rights are relevant,” the experts said. “Good governance and the rule of law at national and international levels are critical. Those living in poverty as well as those working in support of MDG implementation and on development problems must be able to speak freely and participate in decision-making without fear. “

“Addressing the structural causes of poverty and underdevelopment also improves global security” encouraged the experts. “Placing human rights at the centre of strategies to achieve the Millennium Goals would tackle the conditions that contribute to social unrest and terrorism.”

“The Millennium Development Goals create clear targets, and this is their appeal. But the challenge is in the details of implementation, and that is where human rights are crucial” the experts concluded.

(*) Mr James Anaya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people
Mr. Shamsul Bari, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief
Mr. Jorge Bustamente, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants
Ms. Catarina de Albuquerque, Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to access to safe drinking water and sanitation
Mr. Oliver De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food
Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children
Mr. Anand Grover, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
Mr. Walter Kälin, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons
Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
Mr. Cephas Lumina, Independent expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights
Ms. Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues
Ms. Najat M’jid Maalla, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
Mr. Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
Ms. Mirjana Najcevska, Chair of Working Group on people of African descent
Mr. Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
Ms. Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context
Mr. Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism
Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defender
Ms. Magdalena Sepúlveda, Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty
Ms. Farida Shaheed, Independent Expert in the field of cultural rights
Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slaver, including its causes and consequences
Mr. Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education
Mr. Surya Prasad Subedi, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia
Mr. Rudi Muhammad Rizki, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
Ms. Rashida Manjoo, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences

(**) Check the agreed Summit Outcome Document: http://www.un.org/en/mdg/summit2010/pdf/Draft%20outcome%20document.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact Elaine Ryan (Tel: +41 22 917 9697 / Mob: +41 78 729 5499 / email: eryan@ohchr.org)