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Salil Shetty: Human rights are key to MDG success

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) can only be met if government's work to uphold the rights of the world's poorest, Amnesty International's Secretary General warned world leaders at the United Nations on Wednesday.Salil Shetty urged delegates at the MDG review summit in New York to combat discrimination and exclusion, provide justice for the most vulnerable groups and empower people living in poverty."To ensure the MDG process respects human rights, all Member States must set up systems of accountability that are transparent and accessible to all," said Shetty."Everybody is talking about 'accountability' - but their meanings are murky. So let us be clear: the human rights framework provides an essential means of accountability. Real accountability means the possibility for people to claim their rights and seek an effective remedy."  Over 140 heads of state are reviewing the progress made on the MDGs, which aim to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty by the year 2015. However, human rights abuses by governments have so far undermined efforts and society's most disadvantaged people have not benefitted from the global initiative. For example, more than a billion people living in slums are not even included in MDG efforts because the MDG target on slums only commits to improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers.Many states are also carrying out mass forced evictions that drive slum dwellers even deeper into poverty."Development assistance must do no harm.  Assistance aimed at upgrading slums cannot be used to support evictions. Nor can assistance aimed at improving maternal health be used to criminalize abortion services,” said Salil Shetty.An estimated 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. Yet MDG efforts in many countries fail to address the wide-spread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing. Amnesty International's research has also shown that it is hard for marginalised and deprived groups to access justice, with a lack of mechanisms to ensure state accountability."People living in poverty must have effective means to hold their governments to account. Other bodies such as Parliaments, truly independent National Human Rights Institutions, ombudsmen and regulatory bodies must also play a role in monitoring MDG efforts to ensure that they are consistent with human rights," said Shetty.Amnesty International's Secretary General urged all governments to take six key steps going forward including tackling discrimination, setting national targets to realize rights, involving people living in poverty in MDG planning, aligning international cooperation with human rights, bringing MDG efforts in line with human rights standards and ensuring accountability of states."There are two elements of accountability. The first relates to whether people can claim their rights; are the tools and systems in place that allow individuals and groups to make demands on the state in pursuit of their rights?" said Shetty."The second relates to legal enforcement… do people within a State have real access to justice to claim their rights and seek an effective remedy?"Amnesty International has called on governments worldwide to ensure that their efforts to achieve the MDGs are consistent with human rights.