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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

ASG Brands Kehris statement on human rights and sustainable development

13 July 2023


High-Level Political Forum Side-Event: “The Rights Path - Leveraging human rights to rescue the 2030 Agenda and leave no one behind”


ASG Ilze Brands Kehris


UNHQ Conference Room 5

Distinguished participants,

Dear friends,

It’s a true privilege to join you at this side event. We are meeting at a time when the challenges to human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals abound in scope and complexity.

Countries in every region are experiencing poverty levels not seen in a generation. We are facing a global food crisis of unprecedented dimensions. Inequalities have reached unsustainable levels. The climate emergency is accelerating at an alarming pace and environmental degradation continues unabated.

The High-Level Political Forum, and the upcoming SDG Summit, provide us with pivotal opportunities to identify and embrace game changers and solutions.

I am grateful to the United Nations Interagency Network on Human Rights, Leave No One Behind (LNOB), and Sustainable Development for taking the initiative to convene this timely discussion. Together, with one voice, we are underscoring the centrality of human rights in achieving the SDGs.

I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the Permanent Missions of Luxembourg, Chile and Costa Rica for co-sponsoring this side-event with us. I also wish to commend Luxembourg and Chile for their leadership of the Core Group which ensured that a landmark resolution on human rights and the 2030 Agenda was adopted at the Human Rights Council this April, urging greater efforts to connect human rights and SDGs implementation.

Distinguished guests, colleagues,

The Call to Action for Human Rights pushes us to think and act differently and to seize the generational opportunity to build a more equal and sustainable world by placing human rights front and centre in all recovery efforts and development strategies. This is a shared responsibility for the entire UN system, but also concerns all partners.

Development approaches that integrate human rights are stronger and more sustainable. They deliver better results for people and the planet, and they build trust.

Allow me to highlight three critical human rights levers to step up SDG implementation at the country level.

The first is on fulfilling the pledge to leave no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first.

We need to do better in placing international standards of equality and non-discrimination and recommendations at the heart of national development strategies. Policy solutions must better analyze structural power relations and the socio-economic factors that perpetuate exclusion and poverty. To this end, we should reinforce investments in national capacities in three areas: 1) data collection; 2) data disaggregation; and 3) data-driven policy making. Data is essential to put a spotlight on marginalized groups, understand their lived realities and make them visible in policy-making.

The second lever is empowering people as active agents of sustainable development.

Today, civic space is under pressure.

Repressive laws are on the rise, with increased restrictions on freedoms to express, participate, assemble and associate. We need to counter this trend by pursuing policies that empower individuals to participate safely and meaningfully in policy- and decision-making.

We need to give disadvantaged groups - including women and girls - a seat at the table. We know that for any policy to generate change, participation is a must to ensure that the lived experiences and recommendations of affected communities are heard. In country contexts marked by threats and attacks on human rights defenders, including environmental activists and indigenous leaders, enabling public participation means little without also pursuing policies for their protection.

The third lever is the human rights economy.

It is time to recognize that economic growth on its own will not redress structural injustices or fulfil people’s human rights. Our economies must deliver better results for people and our planet.

To achieve this, a fundamental shift is necessary: a shift which aims to firmly anchor economic policies in human rights, labour and environmental standards. Through public budgets, taxation or other economic choices, it is important to be intentional in removing barriers to equality. We must start treating economic, social, cultural, and other rights as what they are – part of the obligatory legal framework and not mere aspirations.

Investment decisions, consumer protections and business models must be firmly guided by human rights norms and standards, including the right to a healthy, clean and sustainable environment. The SDG stimulus and the reform of the international financial architecture towards a more equitable, human rights-enhancing and sustainable system are essential to support a human rights economy.

Distinguished guests, colleagues.

We have arrived at a critical juncture.

75 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights charted a path towards a more just, equal and peaceful world. Policies grounded on human rights build social justice, develop stronger economies and forge stability. They deepen trust and give hope.

I look forward to listening to your views and practical experiences on how we can make this a reality – achieve the 17 SDGs by 2030 on the basis of, and through, human rights.