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Human rights in the post-2015 development agenda

By Zoe Tabary, Editor, Publishing team

The UN development agenda’s latest setback should not obscure the need to uphold human rights standards.

In September 2015, world leaders will meet at the UN General Assembly in New York to endorse the post-2015 development agenda, including the proposed list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

World leaders were expected to sign off budgets for the development agenda at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development held on 13-16 July in Addis Ababa. While they reached agreement on an economic framework for the next 15 years, they rejected the idea of a UN tax body (called for by civil society actors) and instead proposed changes to the existing expert committee. This means the OECD will remain the only intergovernmental body that adopts global standards on tax matters.

It was a painful moment to see the developed countries celebrating the fact that nothing will change
Tove Maria Ryding, policy and advocacy manager for tax justice at the European Network on Debt and Development.

Civil society platforms and aid agencies branded the conference a failure. “It was a painful moment to see the developed countries celebrating the fact that nothing will change,” said Tove Maria Ryding, policy and advocacy manager for tax justice at the European Network on Debt and Development.

Where the MDGs failed

The SDGs are the successors to the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that governments around the world signed up to in 2000 and promised to reach by 2015. A major challenge will be to integrate human rights standards when rolling out the new set of targets.

This was one of the MDGs’ biggest shortcomings, as Amnesty International has argued for several years. The MDGs recognised the symptoms of poverty and underdevelopment, for example, but failed to address their deeper causes. According to Aram Ziai from the University of Kassel, Germany, MDG targets were presented not as political but as technical problems, where the solution appeared as simply increasing financial resources.

Human rights are multidimensional – encompassing civil, political, economic, cultural and environmental rights – and as such contribute to people’s empowerment, and ultimately social and economic development. An increasing amount of evidence supports this: A recent WHO report found that a human rights-based approach in countries such as Nepal, Brazil, Malawi and Italy contributed to health improvements for women and children.

Focus on gender equality

The proposed SDGs feature a standalone goal on gender, which encourages the world to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. There is a long way to go: Amnesty International’s research highlights that women and girls are at greater risk of human rights violations, including gender-based discrimination and access to healthcare. According to the WHO’s latest health survey of 194 countries, one in four women in Africa who wants to prevent or delay childbearing has no access to contraceptives, and only one in two women gives birth with the support of a skilled birth attendant. Although maternal mortality rates have declined globally in the past 20 years, they are still on the rise in eight countries, including the US.

The SDG relating to gender equality should prioritise three areas: Preventing and responding to all forms of gender-related discrimination and violence; guaranteeing sexual and reproductive health and rights for all; and significantly increasing the representation of women in public life.

Ensuring accountability

In order to ensure that the SDGs are effectively implemented, member states ought to commit to adequate review processes. Amnesty International supports the inclusion of a post-2015 accountability framework that will monitor progress for all goals, hear from all relevant stakeholders and correct setbacks. 2015 will be a big year for global governance – governments should make the most of it.