30.04.2014 | Center for Economic and Social Rights

Civil Society urges OWG to foster human rights in post-2015 development agenda

April 30, 2014: In December of last year, we came together as human rights, social and environmental justice and trade union organizations worldwide to lay out a roadmap for embedding all human rights into the core of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.  We’ve monitored developments very carefully since then. As the Open Working Group (OWG) on sustainable development now moves from principles to the specific content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we are compelled to assess how well the full realization of human rights is reflected in the Co-Chairs’ Working Document in advance of the 5-9 May session of the OWG.

Overall, we recognize important achievements in the current proposals to take into consideration the universality of human rights. SDG commitments in this new document clearly apply to all people and the planet everywhere, especially under Focus Areas (FA) 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 on poverty, food, health, education, and water/sanitation respectively. These targets adopt some considerations of the accessibility, availability, acceptability and quality of services essential for realizing economic, social and cultural rights, though there are evident gaps we discuss below, e.g. under FA 5 Water and Sanitation. The proposals are also to some extent consistent with the immediate obligation under human rights law to ensure minimum essential levels of economic and social rights. That being so, it is unfortunate that these socioeconomic goals and targets are not recognized as human rights in themselves, which would improve accountability and public uptake of them, recognizing the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights. We are also concerned in general that the Working Paper does not commit States, international organizations and businesses ensure that their laws and policies related to the SDGs are designed and implemented in a manner consistent with existing current human rights standards.

Embedding human rights accountability into the SDGs is critical. Without effective accountability for human rights, progress will continue to be hampered and people will continue to get left behind. Yet, recognition of this in the working document is uneven. We welcome the inclusion of a target on the “provision of equal access to independent and responsive justice systems” at the domestic level, for example. Globally, meanwhile, the proposals on strengthening global partnerships for sustainable development lack the type of clear, time-bound commitments by all actors, especially rich countries, international institutions and large businesses, which are key to ensuring mutual human rights accountability between countries, and were a key reason for the skewed accountability relationship in the MDGs.

In this regard, one of the most concerning elements of the Working Document is the lack of clear provisions to ensure that the private sector and international financial institutions remain accountable and fully respect human rights and the environment. It is central to adopt targets which incentivize governments to take concrete measures to prevent business-related human rights and environmental abuses, by inter alia mandating independent, rigorous and periodic human rights and environmental impact assessments of all large, influential businesses.

Regarding the human rights principle of equality and non-discrimination, the Co-Chairs Document includes some promising elements. In particular, we welcome the inclusion of equality targets prioritizing progress for various disadvantaged groups. We welcome the stand-alone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, for example, which embraces a broad approach to women’s rights, by including targets on ending violence against women and girls, ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health as a matter of right, ensuring access to productive resources and assets and progressively redistributing women’s unpaid care work. We also are encouraged by target 4b to “ensure that persons with disabilities have access to inclusive education, skills, development and vocational training,” as well as the target 16b to eliminate “discriminatory laws, policies and practices.” However, as noted in our comments on FA1, this working document misses an enormous opportunity to address socio-economic inequalities head-on.

We’d like to now take this opportunity to address specific text in selected focus areas.

In view of these commendations and of these criticisms, we stand ready to contribute over the course of the next year to ensure the post-2015 sustainable development agenda be founded more securely on the central pillar of the UN system—human rights.

Contributors to the Joint Statement are: Amnesty International, Arab NGO Network for Development, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Center of Concern, Center for Reproductive Rights, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, CONCORD – Sweden, Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), FOKUS—Forum for Women and Development, IBON International, International Women's Health Coalition, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), KEPA KULU-Women and Development, Denmark WASH United.