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A rights based approach to MDGs

Sep 18, 2008

Poverty is a lack of social goods and not just the lack of ownership of material goods and opportunities, says a new booklet by the Millennium Campaign and OHCHR. The Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights calls for urgent proritisation of a human rights approach in the MDG processes.

The Millennium Development Goals and Human Rights

Publishers: The Millennium Campaign and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2008

The Millennium Development Goals and human rights have ultimately a common objective: to preserve and protect human dignity through the achievement of a wide range of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.

The human rights-based approach to development fundamentally sees poverty as a result of disempowerment and exclusion

However, human rights have not yet played a significant role in supporting and influencing MDG-related activities. The MDGs have been pursued largely in isolation from the human rights commitments in the original Millennium Declaration.

MDGs and human rights

The human rights-based approach to development fundamentally sees poverty as a result of disempowerment and exclusion.

Poverty is not simply a lack of material goods and opportunities such as employment, ownership of productive assets and savings. It is also the lack of physical and social goods such as health, physical integrity, freedom from fear and violence, social belonging, cultural identity, organisational capacity, the ability to exert political influence, and the ability to live in respect and dignity.

The MDG targets are not sufficiently focused on the poorest of the poor or on inequality within a country

The booklet raises the following questions:

  • Who is winning, and who is losing, in our quest to achieve the MDGs?
  • Whose voices are being heard?
  • What vision of development are we pursuing, if it does not privilege the poorest communities and those suffering discrimination?
  • Can the gains of development really be sustained, if rights are not anchored in laws and institutions, and if duty-bearers are not held accountable for their efforts and outcomes?”

The MDGs aim at achieving tangible progress on poverty reduction and human development over a given implementation period. However, the targets are not sufficiently focused on the poorest of the poor or on inequality within a country.

Human rights instruments require that a minimum core level of each economic, social and cultural right be immediately realised for all and that discrimination be eliminated.

For instance, the Millennium Declaration called for free and fair trade, where as the MDGs only require free trade. A human rights approach would ensure that nationally adopted targets are properly aligned with a State’s human rights treaty obligations.

Human rights can lend legal authority to the MDGs. Moreover, the political commitments encompassed by the MDGs and the legal obligations resulting from human rights treaties both provide tools for holding governments to account.

The booklet suggests four key elements to adapt a human rights approach to the MDGs:

Align the Goals and nationally defined priorities with human rights
o    Adapt the targets
o    Include the excluded
o    Prioritise women’s rights in the targets
o    Ensure indicators are rights sensitive

Be transformational not technocratic

Prioritise rights within policies choices and resource allocation
o    Do no harm
o    Avoid retrogressive measures
o    Adequately direct policies
o    Provide adequate resources

Claim the MDGS
o    Provide effective accountability mechanisms
o    Ensure sustainability and protect the MDG gains

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