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Human Rights: Key to keeping the MDG promise of 2015

“The relevance of human rights principles such as equality, participation, accountability and the rule of law are now widely accepted as instrumental for equitable and sustainable development,” said Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, when opening an event on a human rights approach to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Human rights: The key to keeping the promise of 2015 event in New York © UN Photo/Mark GartenThe event, “Human Rights: the key to keeping the promise of 2015”, was held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 1 July 2010.

Freedom, participation and all other civil and political rights bolster the wealth of societies, she explained. “In turn, social and economic rights are critical both to empower an informed polity to count and be counted, as well as to devise effective development policies.”

“States must therefore implement the international human rights framework they have willingly accepted as their own in order to uproot entrenched patterns of disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination,” said the High Commissioner.

The issue of discrimination and its impact as a barrier to achieving the MDG targets was a common thread among all the speakers at the event. As the High Commissioner explained, “a focus on global average MDG targets and indicators that does not factor in discrimination will only perpetuate the inequality and exclusion of millions of people who would then fall below the radar of policy makers.” 

This was highlighted in a 2010 International Assessment that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently undertook drawing data from 50 countries.

“Women, rural inhabitants, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and other excluded groups often lag well behind national averages of progress on MDG targets,” said Helen Clark, Administrator of UNDP, “even when nations as a whole are moving towards the goals.”

As the Assessment shows, “the denial of human rights and the persistence of exclusion, discrimination and a lack of accountability are … barriers to the pursuit of human development and the MDGs,” she stated.

This was also the conclusion of Ekaterina Parrilla, Executive Director for Public Policies in the Guatemala Presidential Secretariat for Planning and Programming, who cited examples of how Guatemala was working to solve its development problems in the areas of food, primary education, health, maternal and child mortality and clean water.

Unless we promote equality and non-discrimination we would not reach the MDGs, she said, noting that Guatemala was making a special effort towards gender and ethnic equality.

The need for gender equity in order to reach the MDGs was a common concern among the speakers, especially Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), who noted that “women constitute the majority of the poor and illiterate and their human rights are violated on a massive scale.”

The right to sexual and reproductive health is central to advancing women’s empowerment and achieving all of the MDGs, she said. “The health of women is certainly an issue of equity and human rights and it is an indicator of a just society and of good governance.”

“Everyone has the right to participate in development and to receive its benefits,” said Joyce Kafanabo, Minister Plenipotentiary of the Permanent Mission of Tanzania. This has been Tanzania’s core human rights principle “from our first day of independence” in 1961. And along with the additional principle of ‘everyone is equal’, this helps explain why Tanzania is one of the most peaceful countries in the world, she said.

“The Tanzanian government is trying to adhere to these founding principles,” she continued, through “bottom up participation in the development process” which starts at the village level. She noted that for people’s views to be heard there must be an environment conducive to participation and “it is up to the government to enable people to speak up without fear of being sent to jail.”

“My government is very much committed,” she said because “without human rights we cannot achieve the MDGs and without human rights there cannot be development.”

View the event through webcast

2 July 2010