MDGs remain achievable through more accountability and less discrimination

A Batwa woman breastfeeding her twins in Burundi’s northern region of Bubanza © Gabriel Vockel/OHCHR PhotoHigh Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on 28 May that “the objectives of human wellbeing and dignity enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the Millennium Declaration will not be achieved if the MDGs are pursued in isolation from human rights obligations."

In a keynote speech to a seminar organized by the Dutch government, the High Commissioner urged States to follow the example of those countries which are seeing the value of applying human rights principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation and accountability when they design and implement national development strategies.

Using maternal mortality as an example, the High Commissioner cited a new study by the United Nations Human Rights office (OHCHR) which found that “the scale of maternal mortality and morbidity across the world reflects a situation of inequality and discrimination suffered by women throughout their lifetimes, perpetuated by formal laws, policies and harmful social norms and practices.”

The "human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination call for radical reforms in the legal and institutional fabric of a country in order to remove barriers that prevent access to basic services, change social attitudes and stop tolerating discriminatory practices in all spheres of life," she said.

Pillay illustrated the value of human rights accountability for achieving the MDGs by referring to those countries that have successfully adopted laws and procedures on access to public information. These reforms, she said, “coupled with strengthened participatory and inclusive mechanisms, are playing a critical empowering role while ensuring more accountability.”

In that regard, she argued that “women’s involvement in policy analysis, planning, and MDG costing exercises and expenditure tracking can greatly contribute to the development of maternal health systems in countries where social spending is low, health spending even lower and programmes on obstetric care are severely underfunded.”

Pillay said this example showed that "maternal mortality is not simply an issue of public health” and, therefore “public policies must address broader human rights issues, rather than simply deliver a set of technical interventions.” The maternal mortality case clearly illustrates the intrinsic relevance of a human rights approach to all MDGs.

The seminar brought together internationally renowned development and human rights experts in Geneva to prepare for the MDGs Review Summit in September.

Read the full speech of the High Commissioner

28 May 2010