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Civil Society Benchmarks for the High-level Panel


arton4297The Secretary-General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda officially concludes its work this week; its report will be presented to Member States and publicly released on 30 May. [For more information, please see this update on the Panel’s website.]


In the last weeks of the Panel’s tenure, various coalitions of civil society organizations and networks have submitted sign-on letters to the Panel, highlighting “benchmarks” against which they will evaluate the Panel’s report. Some of the letters have been signed on to by nearly 200 organizations. The letters, a full list of which is available here, address concerns including human rights as foundational principles for the Panel’s recommendations; women’s rights and gender equality, including the need to ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights; the need to address inequalities more broadly; an emphasis on State responsibility rather than abdication to the private sector; and the need to incorporate peace and security in recognition of the situation of fragile States.

A Red Flag for the High-level Panel

At the conference “Advancing the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda,” held in Bonn, Germany from 20-22 March, many representatives of civil society expressed concern over the tendency they perceived that the Panel was downplaying the fundamental role of public policy, via governments and multilateral institutions, in favour of an outsized role of the private sector in financing the post-2015 agenda. This led to the “red flag” sign-on statement that was transmitted to Bali, which cautions against developing a set of “reductive” goals, targets and indicators “that ignore the transformative changes required to address the failure of the current development model, which is rooted in unsustainable production and consumption patterns and exacerbates inequality as well as gender, race and class inequities.”

The statement outlines eight points that the Panel would need to address, related to: stopping land and water grabs; eliminating financial support for harmful economic activities, especially extractives; respecting planetary boundaries and the rights of future generations; affirming gender justice; reforming the international trade and financial regimes; building upon the existing human rights architecture as a foundation; addressing issues of peace and conflict through the promotion of a holistic and brood understanding of peace and social justice; and promoting clear and transparent accountability mechanisms. For more details, please see the related article in the NGLS e-magazine The 2015 Post.

Human Rights for All

Another statement with roots in the Bonn conference, Human Rights for All Post-2015, was issued by Amnesty International, the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and almost 40 other organizations, with a main focus on human rights and social justice. “At its essence,” the statement asserts, “a post-2015 framework anchored in human rights moves from a model of charity to one of justice, based on the inherent dignity of people as human rights-holders, domestic governments as primary duty-bearers, and all development actors sharing common but differentiated responsibilities.” It should therefore serve an enabling and empowering function for people, organizations, and countries, rooted in existing human rights architecture as a “non-negotiable normative base.”

Benchmark Letters from Southern NGOs and INGOs

A group of Southern NGOs, led by DAWN, ANND and Social Watch, has compiled more than 130 signatures to its Final Appeal to the High-level Panel, available in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic. The letter advocates Panel members to recognize the multidimensional nature of poverty; promote the positive link between peace, security, and democratic governance; base its recommendations in a human rights foundation; delineate a universal, rights-based, and time-bound system of accountability; and articulate a goal towards the right to self-determination. It also calls on the Panel to acknowledge three main constraints to national capacity in achieving development: climate change, deregulated global finance, and an unfair global trade regime and abusive investment system.

A letter from the Global Alliance for Tax Justice makes a related point, arguing that taxation and financial secrecy are “core development issues” and should be addressed in the Panel’s report. It “strongly urge[s] that the High-level Panel’s recommendations include specific measures to address the glaring tax and financial secrecy deficiencies in our global economic system,” including tax havens and offshore holdings.

The Campaign for People’s Goals for Sustainable Development — a South-based coalition of grassroots organizations, labour unions, and social movements — released a statement in early May outlining the concern “that the Panel’s report will not deliver the bold, visionary and transformative recommendations needed for a new paradigm of sustainable development.” The Campaign warns that “the interests of private profit cannot supersede the rights of the people, especially those at the grassroots. They are the ones who must set and for whom sustainable development policy and practice must work.” It concludes with a warning against the repetition of “business as usual,” for the sake of people and the planet: “The subsequent repetition of 30 years of failed development policy and practice will not be supported by civil society.”

The CEOs of nineteen international non-governmental organizations wrote a letter directly to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on the High-level Panel and the post-2015 agenda more broadly to include a specific focus on addressing inequalities and respecting planetary boundaries. The organizations outline several benchmarks for post-2015: its foundation in human rights; its framing as a single set of universal goals with national differentiation according to contexts and needs; its inclusion of a standalone goal on equity and non-discrimination; its accompaniment by a strong system of accountability; and its incorporation of citizen participation. The letter includes a rationale and an annex related to its benchmarks.

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

The first major sign-on statement on gender equality and women’s rights emerged out of the thematic group on Structural Transformations for Women’s Rights and Gender Justice at the Bonn civil society conference. The statement, which as of 17 April had been endorsed by over 130 organizations and several individuals, is entitled “We Will Not be Mainstreamed into a Polluted Stream: Feminist visions of structural transformations for achieving women’s rights and gender equality in the post-2015 development agenda.” It calls for “deep and structural changes to existing global systems of power, decision-making and resource sharing” towards policy that proactively addresses “increasing inequalities within and between countries, feminization of poverty, discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, commodification of natural resources, threats to food sovereignty, global warming, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation.” Specifically, it urges the Panel to build its framework upon existing human rights architecture throughout its recommendations and on means of implementation in particular.

Many of the organizations that participated in this statement wrote a letter to the Panel, dated 15 May, echoing the need to prioritize gender equality and the rights of women, including adolescent girls, through tackling the structural causes of poverty and injustice along with economic, gender, racial, and social inequalities. The letter mentions the negative effects on women of extractive industries and large-scale monocultures in particular, calling on the Panel to articulate a post-2015 framework that addresses these issues and the larger economic and financial architecture that perpetuates inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation.

Another outcome of the Bonn conference was a sign-on statement entitled Gender Equality to End Poverty, which calls on the Panel to articulate the need to respect women’s human rights; combat violence against women; eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and ensure sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. More than 175 organizations have signed on to the statement, which is available in English, French, and Spanish on the World We Want platform.

Both statements emerging from Bonn demand meaningful participation of women, “particularly the voices of socially-excluded, disenfranchised and marginalized women, as part of the solutions and in the decision-making” of the post-2015 process. The statement agreed upon by the Women’s Caucus at the Panel’s fourth meeting in Bali in late March calls for women’s participation and leadership in monitoring and accountability as well, and a recognition by the Panel of the intersectional nature of gender inequalities and the impediments to development caused by patriarchal systems and practices. The Bali Women’s Caucus, among others (including the official position of UN Women), also calls for both a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment and the mainstreaming of gender-related targets throughout the post-2015 framework.

A letter from a coalition of NGOs including the International Planned Parenthood Foundation (IPPF) was sent to the Panel on 10 May, exhorting each member to ensure that “women’s empowerment and gender equality are front and centre” in the post-2015 agenda. The letter articulates civil society support for a standalone goal on gender equality and women’s empowerment, with “transformative targets tackling critical women’s rights issues, including violence against women and girls, economic empowerment, maternal mortality, political participation and sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Panel member Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation of Sweden, answered this letter by assuring IPPF and the other organizations of her commitment to a standalone goal on gender equality and “the full inclusion of sexual and reproductive health and rights.” Her proposal for such a goal can be found here.

On sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in particular, a coalition of eleven SRHR organizations throughout the world wrote to the Panel advocating a specific goal on SRHR, with three specific targets and a deadline of 2030: universal access, universal recognition, and strengthened systems for the financing of SRHR services.

Peace and Security

In the outcome document of their 19 April meeting in Washington, DC, members of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding called for the post-2015 agenda to recognize that “State fragility represents a barrier to social cohesion, economic growth, sustainable development, and political stability” and consequently to acknowledge the universal importance of peacebuilding and State building. Referring to their foundational agreement, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States, the group encouraged its fulfillment and called attention to the Dili Consensus agreed upon by the g7+ group of fragile States and others in Dili, Timor-Leste, in February 2013.

For an extensive list of civil society sign-on statements, including on health, an enabling environment for civil society, and education, please see this GoogleDoc.

See also the recently-published inaugural edition of the NGLS e-magazine The 2015 Post, available here [pdf].


This article is also available in Spanish and in French.

Photo copyright Nora Erdmann.

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.


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