Skip to main content

Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Meeting with the G77 plus China, Human Rights and the post 2015 agenda

08 April 2014

8 April 2014

Your Excellencies,

It is an honour for me to be here with you today.

First, let me express my gratitude to the Ambassador of Bolivia, who has convened this meeting as current Chair of the G77 and China; and to the previous Chair, the Ambassador of Fiji, who initiated the idea of this meeting.

Let me also thank all of you for being here today.

I know that June 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the G77 and China as a group, and I wish you well for your celebrations at the Commemorative Summit this June in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The long history of this Group demonstrates how clearly you have stood the test of time as a powerful collective voice within the United Nations system.

Your strong voice will continue to be vitally important to the intergovernmental discussions that seek to define the new Sustainable Development Goals — which will build on the Millennium Development Goals and the Rio+20 Outcome Document, to provide a new and transformative Post-2015 development agenda.

I congratulate you on the strong position of G77 and China within the Open Working Group regarding the importance of recognising the linkages between human rights and development, including the right to development.

I agree fully with the statement of G77 plus China in December 2013, at the 6th session of the OWG, when the Ambassador of Fiji, then the Chair, declared that:“Rampant poverty and stark inequality, both within and between countries, serve as a constant reminder that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the fundamental principles of international human rights law it subsequently inspired, as well as the Declaration on the Right to Development, have remained empty words for far too long and for far too many people, especially those belonging to the developing world.”

He rightly urged that: “We should seize on this historical juncture at the UN and focus on practical steps to implement the Declaration, to ensure that the development agenda beyond 2015 puts people at the centre of the development process, with poverty eradication at its core. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, after decades of technological and scientific advancement, one billion people around the world still live in poverty and still live with malnourishment.”

Your Excellencies,

As we approach the year 2015, one thing is clear: our current model of development is unequal, unstable and unsustainable. The financial, food, fuel, energy and climate crises have exacerbated inequalities both within and between countries, depriving millions of people of their right to a decent standard of living.

Our current model of development privileges the wealthiest individuals and the wealthiest states, leaving poorer and less powerful people and States marginalized. This is why the Rio+20 Outcome Document called for a “world that is just, equitable and inclusive.”

The new development agenda must build a new more equitable and sustainable national and international order, grounded on the firm foundation of human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Right to Development.

Before I make a few key points, let me emphasise that human rights are not about conditionality. Nor are they only about one narrow set of rights.

Rather, as my Office has long advocated, an holistic understanding of human rights includes the right to development — just as it includes economic, social and cultural rights, on an equal footing with civil and political rights, as the Vienna Declaration made clear. Human rights set out a broad set of normative standards to guide our national and international policy choices, in a way that will ensure a more equitable and sustainable national and international order. The right to development makes this explicit.

Your Excellencies,

Allow me now to make 5 points about human rights and the Post-2015 agenda:

First, the central objective of the new development agenda must be the eradication of poverty, especially extreme poverty, which should be understood more broadly than an income of $1.25 per day. Poverty is multidimensional. It is rooted in the chronic deprivation of resources, capabilities, choices, security and power.

This is why the new agenda must aim to promote and protect both freedom from want and freedom from fear for all people, without discrimination. It must aim to fulfil the rights education, health, housing, food, water, sanitation and decent work and social security. But it must also take account of people’s concerns relating to personal security, the access to and administration of justice, and the possibilities of political participation, including free expression and association.

Second, the imperative of equality should underpin the entire agenda, so that marginalised groups, previously locked out from development, are included. This means that three principles — equality, non-discrimination and a broader sense of equity— are be integrated throughout the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of the key failings of the Millennium Development Goals was their focus on average statistics and aggregate progress, which meant that many people were excluded from development. Inequalities - both within and between countries – have risen, in ways that put economic growth and social cohesion at risk, as social tensions flare into divisive and violent conflict.

This is why equality must be mainstreamed throughout the new framework. This can be achieved by disaggregating data for all social groups for all goals, targets and indicators, and monitoring progress for each group. This will help to create greater equity in access to health, education and other key social services. It will help to ensure the inclusion of the marginalized, disempowered and excluded groups — including women, minorities, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, migrants and others.

The new targets and indicators must also include measures to eliminate discrimination and measures to reduce social, economic and environmental inequalities. This should include addressing the unequal environmental burdens borne by indigenous peoples, traditional farmers, pastoralists, herders, coastal communities and people living in small island states, in the face of natural disasters, desertification and global climate change.

Third, the new agenda must also address international inequalities. In the wake of global financial, food, climate and energy crises ­— and the self-evident failures of global governance to prevent and mitigate their effects ­— the Post-2015 agenda must address the pressing need for reforms at the international level. This must include human rights-based reforms of the institutions, processes and policies of global governance.

This will include democratising the institutions of global governance, to give real voice and participation to all countries in global decision-making and ensure greater fairness and equity in the shaping of the rules of global governance. This is essential for example in the field of trade, where the rules on agricultural subsidies and intellectual property are still skewed in favour of the more powerful countries, in ways that risk the rights to food and health of people in developing countries. We need meaningful reforms of trade, finance, investment, intellectual property, climate and other regimes, to ensure that international rules and policies are consistent with, and do not undercut, the minimum standards set by human rights. All States must have the policy space to protect the human rights of their people.

It is important to note that Millennium Development Goal 8, on global partnership, did include some useful indicators on aid, trade, debt, technology transfer - and on the need for special and differential treatment for Least Developed Countries, including the land-locked and small island developing states. It will be critical to ensure that the new development agenda takes forward these commitments, as well as other, unfinished business of the MDGs. But this time, it will be important to ensure the accountability of all states to meet their commitments.

For this reason, as my fourth point, I would emphasise that the new agenda must also include a strong accountability framework - including accountability of the private sector. While MDG8 did include some useful targets and indicators, no measurable targets were set and progress was not monitored In short, there was no accountability. The new agenda must build strong accountability mechanisms so that all states are accountable for honouring the commitments that they make.

And other powerful actors — including private actors such as transnational corporations — should also be held to account, to ensure responsible business practice. We must ensure the exercise of due diligence; use of human rights impact assessments; and the full application of the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Finally, it is vital that the new agenda be universally applicable. The Rio+20 Outcome Document establishes that the Sustainable Development Goals must be “universally applicable to all countries, while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development”.

In this regard, the G77 and China has frequently emphasised the need for “common but differentiated responsibilities”, which is a well-known concept in environmental law.

International human rights law also takes account of States' different levels and stages of development, through concepts of ‘progressive realisation’, ‘maximum available resources’ and the duties of international assistance and cooperation. The right to development sets out the duty to create an enabling international environment. In the current debates over universality and differentiation, the universally agreed — and universally applicable — normative framework of human rights thus seems more relevant than ever.

Your Excellencies,

I hope that, as I have previously discussed with the Ambassador of Bolivia, as Chair, today's discussions will be an opportunity to identify the key issues that you feel are important - which our experts at the working level can then discuss in further depth at a later meeting.

To start our discussions, I would ask: What do you see as the most critical opportunities and challenges in integrating human rights in the Post-2015 development framework? And how best can OHCHR offer support in overcoming these challenges?

I look forward to hearing your perspectives.

Thank you.

Final, possible closing remarks for the end of the discussion

It has been a great honour for me to listen to your points, on a broad range of issues, including:

  • The need to address poverty eradication at the core of the new agenda, with a focus on addressing the inequalities that lead to conflict and instability.
  • The importance of linking the national and international conditions for development, including through the means of implementation, so that the constraints to development at both national and international levels are addressed.
  • It is also interesting to hear your ideas regarding the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. It is very clear that the Post-2015 agenda should be a universal agenda, but it must recognise the different starting points and different conditions of different countries. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. The human rights framework, which is universal but sensitive to the levels of development of countries, will be helpful in this regard.
  • And the many other issues that you have raised today.

My colleagues here with me in the room have carefully noted all these issues down; let me put forward the suggestion that we take this discussion forward further at the working level.

In closing, let me thank you once again for joining the discussion here today, and let me reiterate the willingness of my Office to engage with you and support you in any way that we can. I thank you for your openness and frankness and look forward to our continued collaboration.