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Tracking progress in achieving human rights goals

With the 15-year Millennium Development Goals drawing to a close, the United Nations and its partners are negotiating the strategy which will succeed them. The Development Post-2015 Agenda still has the eradication of extreme poverty as its overarching goal and puts sustainable development at the core of the transformative shifts it is aiming to achieve in the years through to 2030.

Central to the global planning for post-2015 has been a review of the methods used to measure progress of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed in 2000. The UN Human Rights Office has been working with a special task force established by the UN Secretary-General to evaluate existing data collection and interpretive methods and to design an appropriate monitoring framework for the post-2015 agenda.

The subject could not be more important, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said at the launch of the report, "Statistics and indicators for the post-2015 development agenda", which was produced by the task force with contributions from more than 60 UN entities. “Without adequate data and appropriate measurement methods, post-2015 commitments will be little more than pious hopes, devaluing the currency of global promises,” Pillay said.

“The MDGs emerged from a comparatively insular process,” the High Commissioner said. “Nevertheless, they have come to exert a significant influence on development policy, driven by their simplicity, measurability, and power of numbers. Data collection and statistical methods have undoubtedly improved as a result.”

The report says important lessons have been learnt from the MDG project, including that there remain many countries that do not have the capacity to maintain effective data collection programmes.

A “concerted effort” is required to assist these countries to develop national statistical services, the report concludes.

In her remarks, Pillay noted that the MDG targets and indicators were not always aligned with the human rights obligations States have as signatories to the international human rights treaties. Additionally, she said there was a “near-silence” on issues of discrimination.

The taskforce, in its report, explores development indicators that are much broader than those encapsulated in the MDGs framework. It describes indicators, which link global, environmental and economic objectives and development. Subjective indicators of well-being such as surveys of population attitudes, expectations and satisfaction, access to justice, corruption, equitable social services, health and work satisfaction are given status in the post-2015 approach.

Pillay welcomed the more comprehensive view: “One of the strongest and most consistent demands emerging from global consultations on the post-2015 development agenda is that [it] be grounded explicitly in internationally recognized human rights.”

The report describes the “growing interest in quantitative measures of governance, rule of law, peace building, violence and conflict and human rights at national and international levels”. In these areas “impressive and ground-breaking work on methodologies and data collection is well-advanced… This experience can be reviewed and options for bringing them into the mainstream of official statistics, as represented by the agenda of the Statistical Commission, considered,” the report says.

“It urges ‘additional resources and political commitment’ for developing post-2015 targets and indicators.

The UN Human Rights Office has led the way in the development of this multi-faceted approach, producing detailed indicators based on international human rights law, which apply to the human rights situation in every country. The Human Rights Indicators Guide produced by the Human Rights Office is being used in many countries to assist national governments implement rights-based policies.

Just recently, the Prosecutors Office in Mexico City adopted human rights indicators developed by the UN Human Rights Office to assist in ensuring the right to a fair trial and to prevent torture.

2 August 2013

See also