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Smarter Partnerships in a Complex World: The Potential of MDG 8 - Statement by Ms. Navanethem Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Millennium Development Goals Review Summit 2010

New York, 20 September 2010

Distinguished Delegates,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is both a pleasure and a privilege to be with you today to discuss the vital issue of partnerships for poverty reduction, and MDG 8. In an increasingly turbulent and uncertain world, buffeted by financial, food, climate and other crises, this topic could not be more timely.

The MDGs embody an unprecedented global compact for poverty reduction, a new deal under which richer and poorer countries agree to join efforts towards a small number of achievable, time-bound human development targets. MDG 8 is a defining element of this bargain, encouraging a fairer deal on aid, trade, debt relief, technology transfer, access to essential medicines and other critical elements of an enabling international environment for development.

The question I want to pose today is: how can we ensure that the promise of MDG 8 is fulfilled?

The MDGs were not, of course, intended to be a complete development strategy. But the strong emphasis on human rights contained in the Draft Outcome Document, can fill many critical gaps. The Draft Outcome Document commits States to hasten progress on aid volumes and quality, financing for development, trade reforms such as eliminating agricultural subsidies, implementing the Doha Development Agenda, facilitating full use of public health flexibilities in the TRIPS agreement, among many others.

I commend member States for their vision and leadership in these respects. But as we know, many of these pledges are not new. Some of our most important global partnership commitments, regrettably, remain only paper promises. The lack of time-bound targets in MDG 8 compounds this problem. Our challenge now, more than ever, is to ensure that our pledges are clearly specified, and are translated into deeds.

This, I would argue, is where a human rights approach comes in. The human rights framework underscores duties and responsibilities of international cooperation, strengthening accountability between developed and developing States for their partnership commitments under MDG 8. The 2008 Accra Action Agenda committed signatory States and development organisations to integrate human rights in their aid policies, and the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee has issued policy guidance to its members as to how this could be done.

Building upon previous global Summit commitments, the Draft Outcome Document recognizes the importance of the Right to Development for achieving the MDGs. Ground-breaking work has been carried out under the auspices of the Human Rights Council in recent years, to give flesh to the bones of this right. In this context, at the request of the Open-Ended Working Group on the Right to Development, a high level task force supported by my Office engaged in dialogue and collaboration with multilateral institutions responsible for some 12 global partnerships within the scope of MDG 8, exploring the conformity of each with the Right to Development. The results of this work include an objective set of criteria for the implementation of the Right to Development, which member States are presently considering.

What does this mean in practice? 

Firstly, as the Draft Summit Outcome has recognized, that all member States are bound to respect internationally recognized human rights in their development and aid policies. This calls for, at a minimum, ex ante human rights impact assessments of policy measures. The science of this is not new: the more significant constraint in many cases is lack of political will.

Secondly, the Right to Development requires “active, free and meaningful participation” of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making, in particular the most excluded groups. Modes of participation obviously depend upon the context. However, Parliaments and representative bodies need to be more systematically engaged in decision-making on macro-economic and poverty reduction policy issues at the national level. Participation is meaningless without essential civil and political rights guarantees, and timely access to all relevant information in accessible languages and formats. Increasing the voices and influence of poorer countries in the governing bodies of international financial institutions is also critical.

Thirdly, development partnerships should reflect the principle of equality and non-discrimination, explicitly prioritizing the needs and rights of the poorest and most marginalized, and mandating positive measures in order to level the playing field. The Draft Outcome Document contains many illustrations of this principle, including aiming for equitable (as well as sustainable and inclusive) economic growth, promoting universal access to basic social services, prioritizing the rights of women, children and indigenous peoples in MDG policy, and cooperating to collect disaggregated data at the national level so that MDG process is inclusive and inequalities are not further exacerbated.

Fourthly, a human rights approach improves aid quality by gearing it towards the development of capacities for empowerment and accountability, including critical investments in State capacities to ensure the delivery of quality basic services without discrimination. Recent studies carried out by my Office in Haiti and Liberia show how aid dependency can weaken the democratic accountability of the State to people, as government becomes more accountable to donors while the donors are in turn accountable to their own public.

Such tendencies can be countered by building mechanisms of accountability, where individuals and communities have an active role to play. Examples include social accountability mechanisms, such as community scorecards as in Uganda and Madagascar, and rights-based budget processes, like those underway in Ecuador and Morocco. Judicial enforcement of social rights can have significant life-saving impacts, as experience in my own country, South Africa, has shown.

Correspondingly, donor accountability can be strengthened through increased transparency in donor policies and aid budgets, and establishing independent monitoring and review mechanisms. Examples of the latter include the World Bank’s Inspection Panel, as well as the UNDP-supported “Aid Watch” initiative in Sri Lanka, aimed at empowering communities to monitor aid flows after the 2004 Tsunami and build their capacities to demand accountability and transparency in the development process. Through these kinds of measures, the aid-recipient relationship may progress from one of charity to mutual responsibility and broad-based national ownership.

The year 2011 will mark the 25th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration on the Right to Development. The Summit Draft Outcome Document provides clear authority and guidance on integrating human rights within strengthened partnerships for the MDGs leading to, and beyond, the year 2015.

Now it is the job of all of us to forge a global human rights constituency, to ensure that this moment is not lost, and that human rights and the MDGs are pursued hand-in-hand for sustained and equitable development results.

Thank you.

Useful References
OHCHR webpage for more information on human rights and the MDGs: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/MDG/Pages/MDGIndex.aspx

Information note on the Right to Development: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/MDGs/InfonoteR2DMDGs%20Final_en.pdf

For further information you may contact Fred Kirungi at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in New York. (kirungi@un.org)