August 19, 2016

Looking 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development from Human Rights Perspective

Dr. Khine Khine Win

In September 2000, during the Millennium Summit, UN member States adopted Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It comprises 8 goals with 18 targets to address poverty and other socio-economic deprivations. It has provided an important framework for worldwide development and a lot of progress has been made on MDGs but that’s not good enough and not adequately aligned with Human Rights and did not give sufficient attention to discrimination and inequalities. MDGs have ended at the end of 2015 officially.
In September 2015, the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives gathered at New York to attend the UN Sustainable Summit where they have taken a bold step to embark on the 2030 Development Agenda. This important document entitled “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. It is a new compact for people and planet anchored in 17 Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs with 169 associated targets which are integrated and indivisible. They are to replace the MDGs as MDGs expired at the end of 2015. This 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was officially adopted by UN General Assembly with the resolution number A/RES/70/1 by UN member States.
Short form of 17 Sustainable Development Goals are (1) no poverty (2) zero hunger (3) good health and well-being (4) quality education (5) gender equality (6) clean water and sanitation (7) affordable and clean energy (8) decent work and economic growth (9) industry, innovation and infrastructure (10) reduced inequalities (11) sustainable cities and communities (12) responsible consumption and production (13) climate action (14) life below water (15) life on land (16) peace, justice and strong institutions (17) partnership for the goals. All goals cover almost all areas that matter for the wellbeing of people everywhere. If all the issues are effectively addressed, the world would be a different place where people are living happily, prosperous and peaceful lives. In order to get these 17 goals, the United Nations has conducted the largest consultation program in its history to gauge opinion on the SDGs should include.
UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon said this new agenda encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world and also this is the People’s Agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all it dimension, irreversibly, everywhere and leaving no one behind.
Preamble of the new agenda states that SDGs seeks to build on the MDGs and complete what they did not achieve. And also the preamble open with a reference to strengthening peace in larger freedom and then seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The commitment to leave no one behind has been the key features of SDGs. The idea is that no goal should be met unless it is met for everyone, whenever they live, whatever they do or whoever they are.
As I mentioned before, though MDG process led to significant progress in realization of certain economic and social rights, it failed to adopt a human-rights based approach. Human rights were, therefore, not considered in a consistent or comprehensive manner when State to sought to achieve the MDGs.  This resulted in uneven progress across regions and countries exacerbated by conflict, gender inequality, poverty and environmental threats. However, the new 2030 Agenda marks an important paradigm shift towards an equitable and sustainable world that is human rights – based. It is explicitly grounded in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of human rights, human rights treaties and instruments including the Declaration on the right to development and UN guiding principles on Business and Human Rights. Although the goals and targets do not explicitly mention particular human rights, the issues covered effectively mirror the international human rights framework encompassing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as well as the right to development. This will provide new opportunities for mainstreaming human rights into development and also provide a new vehicle through which human rights can be claimed and governments held accountable to their international obligations.
It is worth noting that there are 12 times “human rights” word expressions in the 2030 agenda. It means that UN and all member states acknowledge the important role of human rights and greatly recognized that human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development.  As a globally agreed blueprint for 2015-2030, the SDGs are likely to become the major point of reference for development actors at all levels and will have a significant impact on the human rights agenda for years to come.
The 2030 agenda reaffirm the responsibility of all States, respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinction of any kind as race, sex, color, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status (2030 agenda Para 19). Also the new agenda recognizes the need to build peaceful, justice and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect of human rights, on effective rule of law and good governance at all levels and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions ( 2030 agendaPara35).
Unfortunately, there is no reference whatsoever to the contributions by human rights bodies to monitoring and implementing the SDGs. However the National Human Rights Institution, where they exists can contribute much to the follow up of the SDGs. Regional human rights Institutions and similar human rights bodies can also bring in valuable insights and recommendations. At the global level UN Human Rights Council and its subsidiary entities, along the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can help greatly. As SDGs targets are closely aligned with human rights standards, I, myself wish to have a human-rights sensitive SDG indicator framework to monitor progress for all people from everywhere.
From 1 January 2016, the new goals and targets have come into effect. So, it is the time to change from commitment to action for the achievement of SDGs. To do so we need action from all actors. Government must identify and plan for the changes they need to undertake to reach these new goals. There is no doubt that there are many challenges along the way in terms of implementing as there is wide range of serious issues of poverty, deprivation, widening income inequality, lack of social protection and insecure employment, conflicts, environmental pollution and natural resource depletion and so on.
In fact, negarding the means of implementation, the 2030 agenda reaffirm that there are different approaches, visions, models and tools available to each country, in accordance with its national circumstances and priorities to achieve sustainable development (2030 agenda Para 59). Here it should be noticed that people are at the centre of sustainable development. According to Mary Robinson (former president of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights), rights are central to every aspect of development, and a people-centered approach may be more successful in addressing the vicious cycle of poverty, environmental degradation and conflict.
As 2030 agenda is an agenda of the people, by the people and for the people, we all need to work together. It is not only up to government. It is up to all of us to take action. But whenever and whatever we take action, we must look into human rights perspectives. We must consider basic principles of human rights such as non-discrimination and equality in order to leave no one behind.
To conclude, let me highlight again the 2030 agenda, agenda of the people, by the people and for the people is a universal agenda and is universally applicable for all people in all countries, including developed, developing countries and least developed countries. Bear in mind that respect for and enforcement of human rights is a precondition of sustainable development. In order to achieve all sustainable development goals (SDGs), enhance governance grounded in the rule of law, respect of human rights and high-level political commitment is essential.


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