High-Level Panel report on the post-2015 development agenda: reaction from the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

On 30th May 2013, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 development agenda (HLP) issued its report.

The Special Rapporteur welcomes some elements of the report, particularly the suggested commitment to ending poverty, but calls for a stronger human rights foundation to the final post-2015 agenda and a more ambitious approach in regard to inequality, social protection and access to justice. In doing so, she highlights the recommendations in her own previous submission on the post-2015 agenda, as well as the joint statement of 17 UN Special Procedures mandate-holders issued on 21 May 2013.  

Human rights norms and standards provide concrete guidance as to how goals and targets for the post-2015 development agenda should be framed, and governments have already committed to uphold human rights in numerous international treaties. It is therefore disappointing that although the HLP affirm that the post-2015 framework should be grounded in respect for universal human rights, these rights do not substantively inform the suggested goals and targets. Indeed, in some cases existing binding human rights obligations already require stronger action than that suggested in the report. The coming discussions must go beyond rhetorical references to human rights and incorporate human rights and accountability more meaningfully in the vision and content of the post-2015 agenda. It must underline the duty of States to guarantee at least minimum essential floors of rights enjoyment and to use the maximum of their available resources to realize rights progressively for all.

Although reducing inequality is suggested as an overarching priority in the HLP report, it does not suggest a stand-alone goal or specific targets. Commitments to reduce income inequality are a dire necessity in order to tackle not only poverty, but also huge deficits in human rights enjoyment around the globe. It is essential that such commitment is translated into concrete and concerted objectives, targets and indicators which aim at developing a systematic reduction in inequalities between the most marginalized groups and the general population, including women and men, poor and rich, rural and urban, those living in informal settlements and formal urban settlements. The lack of a standalone goal is especially disappointing in the light of widespread consensus on this issue emerging from the UN consultation, and existing human rights obligations regarding non-discrimination and equality.

However, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the commitment to disaggregated data and indicators, and the statement that targets will only be considered achieved if they are met for all relevant income and social groups.

The Special Rapporteur is pleased to note that increased social protection coverage is suggested as a target under the ‘illustrative goal’ of ending poverty, as well as the HLP’s recognition that social protection is a “potential gamechanger that can directly improve equality” and that existing successes should be built on and adopted more widely. However, the Special Rapporteur calls on member states and the international community as a whole to adopt a more ambitious and visionary approach to social protection as a human rights imperative post-2015, by establishing universal targets on social protection (which would be consistent with State’s human rights obligations) and creating a funding mechanism to assist least-developed countries in establishing social protection floors, in line with the proposed Global Fund for Social Protection.

In terms of access to justice, the Special Rapporteur welcomes the inclusion of a target on accessible, independent and well-resourced justice institutions under Goal 11, as well as other relevant targets under Goal 10. These are positive suggestions. However, the Special Rapporteur urges the international community to include more specific and measurable targets on access to justice in the final framework, aimed at ensuring the poorest and most disadvantaged persons can claim their rights and access remedies without obstacles or discrimination.  The overarching focus should be universal access to primary justice services, supported by targets on legal identity, legal aid, access to information, and land rights (particularly for rural women), among others.

Accountability more broadly is missing from the HLP’s report: the new goals are envisaged as inspirational guide posts rather than binding obligations. This is concerning given widening accountability gaps that have undermined the current MDGs, and clearly does not reflect an approach that would put human rights obligations up front and centre in post-2015 discussions. The final post-2015 agenda should include a detailed vision for accountability processes and mechanisms to ensure that its intended beneficiaries, including people living in extreme poverty, can hold governments to their promises. Human rights mechanisms would provide a path for duty-bearers to be held accountable, and therefore should be strengthened. It must also outline a stronger approach to corporate accountability, emphasizing States’ duty to regulate business and protect against potentially harmful human rights impacts, particularly of extractive industries.

[For more detailed suggestions on these issues, please see the Special Rapporteur’s individual submission on the post-2015 agenda, as well as the joint statement of 17 Special Procedures.]