Freedom from fear and want, a sustainable development imperative

The Millennium Declaration, which represented a commitment by the world’s political leaders to achieve global development, was instrumental in setting eight goals to be reached by 2015. Those goals aimed to reduce poverty and hunger, promote education and gender equality, as well as improve health and the global partnership for development.

As the 2015 target date of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) looms closer, the international community has been preparing the new development agenda which should address the remaining development challenges the world faces. Following the Rio+20 summit last year, where Member States reaffirmed the importance of respecting and promoting human rights for all, the UN General Assembly is expected to pass, in September 2013, its first resolution on the development framework which should follow the MDGs.

Today, countries identified as MDGs success stories are the sites of mass protests decrying widespread deprivation, repression and inequalities. People across the globe have taken to the streets to tell their leaders that economic growth alone is not an adequate measure of development. Rather, it signifies freedom from fear and freedom from want that can only be realized if governments respect and promote the full range of human rights of their populations, without discrimination.

Protesters have demanded decent work, adequate health care and housing as well as personal security, a right to participate in political processes, access to justice, and that their leaders are held accountable for their decisions.

At a panel discussion organized by the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) in New York earlier this year, experts analysed the key human rights messages that emerged from the MyWorld online survey, and the global and national public consultations on the new development framework that have taken place these past few months. They also sought concrete ways to integrate human rights in the post-2015 framework.

Opening the discussions, the Chief of the Development and Social and Economic Issues Branch at OHCHR, Craig Mokhiber, said that “old approaches focusing narrowly on economic growth were no longer credible proxies for development. Rather, people were demanding freedom from fear and from want for all, without discrimination.”

Until the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, Tunisia had been heralded as one of the success stories of the MDGs.  The Tunisian Ambassador to the UN in New York, Mohamed Khaled Khiari, stressed the importance of human rights in achieving the Development Goals.

“Although Tunisia on paper was on track to achieving the MDGs, it could not prevent the popular uprising, as there were structural weaknesses in Tunisia’s development agenda and inequitable economic growth,” he said. “The unemployment rate was rising, corruption was widespread and development unequal. Experience shows that without freedom of expression and participation, economic growth is not sustainable.”

Daniel Semor of UN Women, noted that it was then recognized that inequality, including gender inequality, was structurally driven by economic, political and social policies.

“There is an overwhelming consensus that the human rights approach to the post-2015 development agenda is a good one,” he said. “We need to address gender bias, inequality and gender-based discrimination, and also ensure that the voices and inspirations of the most vulnerable sections of the population are heard in the post-2015 agenda.”

The hope to have new targets focusing on persons with disabilities, who, according to the World Report of Disabilities, represent 15 per cent of the world population, was formulated by Vladimir Cuk of the International Disability Alliance.

“Discrimination and inequalities result from a large number of barriers such as physical, communication, strong prejudice and stigma. This has led to people with disabilities being invisible and unable to take part in the decision making process which, further compounded with lack of services, makes them very often vulnerable to poverty or extreme poverty.”

Jessica Evans, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that the new global development framework should support a concept of development that respected human rights, was participatory and non-discriminatory, and also in line with human rights laws.

“Development is best understood as the creation of condition in which all people’s basic rights and freedoms are realized. The new development framework should include a goal on participation, transparency and accountability,” she urged. “This is essential for communities to shape development policies and for intended beneficiaries to speak up when they do not benefit from development initiatives.”

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr of the New School and Member of High-Level Task Force on the Right to Development, noted that the actions of a national government are not the only effect its population feels, but also the decisions made by governments and stakeholders outside its borders, such as trade rules and subsidies that can have great impact. Therefore, she added, collective action and joint obligation were needed, not only on the right to development but also in the very idea of international cooperation.

“Poor countries cannot fulfil their obligation, particularly [regarding MDG 6] on HIV/AIDS and malaria where collective international action needs to be mobilized. The spirit of partnership is central to the very purpose of the Millennium Declaration which recognized a set of universally shared values,” said Fukuda-Parr. “We must remember that we are in the business of moral economy with the purpose to pursue these shared values.”

The global public consultations have recognized the shortcomings in the accountability aspect of the MDG process, highlighted Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).

“The ultimate purpose of the post-2015 agenda should be framed in human rights terms, and to realize the goal of human rights for all, we must go beyond economic growth,” he said. “Aligning human rights norms with the post-2015 agenda on what States are responsible for should go beyond the preamble, contrary to the current MDGs … States must be held responsible for the efforts, results and the outcomes.”

In New York, the UN Human Rights Office and CESR launched a new publication which details the different types of accountability and how accountability gaps in the current MDGs can be addressed in the new development framework. Read the full publication here, or view an abridged version in a slideshow on our social media platform.

 11 July 2013

See also