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President of the General Assembly Convenes HLE on Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (9-10 June)

arton4467From 9-10 June, PGA John Ashe convened a HLE on “Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post-2015 Development Agenda” at UN HQ in NYC. The two-day event provided an interactive platform for Member States, UN agencies and civil society representatives to consider how human rights and the rule of law have been applied at national and international levels to improve development outcomes. It further sought to draw from these experiences in terms of framing the post-2015 development agenda. 

In his background note for the meeting, the GA President set the tone for the meeting by emphasizing that human rights, the rule of law and the quest for sustainable development are inextricably linked.The High-level Event consisted of a one-day plenary session, including an opening session, followed by two multi-stakeholder panel discussions on 10 June, and a closing session.

Plenary session

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded participants that “everyone is entitled to all rights.” In the coming months, he stressed, there is an opportunity – and a duty – to unite behind a transformative post-2015 agenda for sustainable development, “where human rights and the rule of law will be central to these efforts – both as a means and an end.” In a similar vein, Mr. Ashe noted that there is “a unanimous recognition” that respect for human rights and the rule of law provides a context that facilitates development, “just as development facilitates the establishment of a regime of respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

In her video message, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay presented guidelines for consideration. One of the guidelines related to ensuring a strong global partnership in the new development agenda which would ensure that international policy is coherent with human rights, including the right to development. This would mean addressing power imbalances in global governance, and creating an enabling environment for development that would ensure that international regimes for trade, investment, intellectual property and international cooperation are consistent with, and respectful of, human rights standards.

Concluding her remarks, she appealed to participants: “We have a unique opportunity to redefine the very idea of global development in the 21st century.… There can be no work more meaningful than this.”

Panel Discussion 1

The first panel discussion, moderated by Irene Khan, Director-General, International Development Law Organization, focused on “Exploring the contributions of human rights and the rule of law in supporting national and international efforts towards poverty eradication and sustainable development.”

Referring to a growing understanding that rule of law is essential to ensuring sustainable progress in economic, environmental and social development, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, in his keynote address, outlined concrete aspects of the rule of law which drive development. The rule of law i) requires that all persons have a legal identity (needed to claim equal rights and to have access to public services, information and justice); ii) provides mechanisms for holding public officials accountable to their constituencies; iii) means independent and effective justice systems which protect people’s rights; and iv) supports effective security systems and institutions. He noted that international and regional organizations have developed credible measurement methods on land and property security, corruption, justice, human trafficking, violence against women and girls, birth registration, etc. “Countries are increasingly measuring the rule of law for use in national policy planning. Timely and reliable statistics help decision-makers and ensure that policies are evidence-based. And this, in turn, supports resource mobilization, transparency and accountability,” he stressed. “Integrating rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda would foster this virtuous cycle and enhance stability of our efforts,” the Deputy Secretary-General concluded.

In her remarks, Ms. Khan indicated that poverty is not just about low income, but is actually about the denial of human rights, covering the entire gamut of economic, social, and cultural rights, and political and civil rights. “Human rights and the rule of law have a symbiotic relationship. Without respect for human rights and the rule of law, we will fail to make development work for everyone,” she concluded.

For Christoph Strässer, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Germany, a human rights-based approach represents a necessary paradigm shift in the way development cooperation is approached. A strong commitment to the rule of law in the new framework would ensure accountability on the side of public authorities and empowerment on the side of individuals, and national human rights insitutions could play an important role in this regard.

Martin Kreutner, Dean of the International Anti-Corruption Academy, noted that it was “impossible to look at corruption through any lens and miss the intrinsic link to human rights and development.” He drew attention to the massive impact of corruption on human rights and dvelopment: “From a global perspective a staggering two digit percentage of GDP’s wealth are constantly and continuously syphoned away into illegitimate corrupt channels.” The prevention of and fight against corruption needs to consitute a more prominent and explicit component of the post-2015 and the sustainable development goals, from social inclusion to economic growth and poverty alleviation, he advocated.

Nicholas Lusiani, Director, Human Rights in Economic Policy Program, Center for Economic and Social Rightsnoted that tackling inequalities required “an unrepentant focus” on the most disadvantaged and deprived in society, and that human rights instruments provide “a sort of a charter” for combating inequality and discrimination on various grounds. “Mechanisms for enforcing these instruments meanwhile – from constitutional courts to people’s budgets to UN Special Rapporteurs – are used daily by disadvantaged communities in countless contexts to fight back against discrimination, and to actively include themselves in societies and economies they would otherwise be expelled from,” he stressed.

Mr. Lusiani provided recommendations on how the post-2015 framework and its programme of action could be designed to reflect and reinforce existing human rights norms in three ways.

1. Design of the goals

First, human rights can guide how the sustainable development goals, targets and indicators are set, Mr. Lusiani stressed, informing participants that the the Post-2015 Human Rights Caucus had released on 10 June a new “Litmus Test” tool that provides a set of 8 questions and more detailed assessment criteria enabling all stakeholders involved in the design of the SDGs to more objectively assess whether the proposed post-2015 goals, targets and indicators respect and reflect pre-existing human rights legal standards, including obligations of both a domestic and an international or global nature. These questions consider, for example, whether the proposals support human rights comprehensively; ensure full transparency and meaningful participation of all people; guarantee that the private sector respects human rights; specifically and comprehensively support girls’ and women’s rights, etc.

2. Means of financing the goals

Noting that a “perfect set” of post-2015 commitments are “just ink on parchment without effective means of implementation,” he suggested that human rights could offer a critical tool for improving how these new goals can be financed by putting in place a financing strategy to ensure the sufficiency, the equality and theaccountability of resources for sustainable development.

In terms of sufficiency, he drew attention to CESR’s recent study with Christian Aid, “A Post-2015 Fiscal Revolution,” that finds that a range of complementary domestic and global fiscal commitments – all buttressed by governments’ human rights duties – could together unleash at least US$1.5 trillion per year in additional, stable and predictable public funding for sustainable development.

The distributive impacts of how resources are raised and spent are as critical as the amount raised, Mr. Lusiani stated, noting that the equality of resourcing is thus a second dimension of an effective financing strategy: “Human rights law obliges governments to conduct tax and fiscal policies in ways which effectively alleviate the tax burden on the poorest, and progressively increase the low levels of income, capacities and access to essential services which prevent the full realization of human rights of disadvantaged groups. So, concrete steps to more fairly distribute the burdens and the benefits of resourcing sustainable development would have significant value in reducing corrosive levels of socio-economic inequality in all countries.”

Finally, accountable financing of sustainable development requires the highest standards of transparency, participation and public and judicial oversight of tax and fiscal policy-making in domestic and global speheres, he stressed, all of which can be significantly bolstered by existing human rights instruments and institutions.

3. Ensuring accountability of all actors in sustainable development

Noting that success or failure in the design of effective accountability mechanisms for the post-2015 development framework “will mark the difference between real transformation and yet another set of unfulfilled promises,” he indicated that CESR is proposing a systems-approach, or “web of sustainable development accountability” where failures in one place are communicated throughout. This would entail more constructive interaction between different mechanisms at different levels, accounting for the conduct of different actors (States, international institutions and the private sector), providing different functions (monitoring, reviewing and providing remedies), as well as potentially focusing on different sectoral goals (such as health, water and sanitation). In order to benefit from their respective and in many ways complementary mandates, constructive interaction between the international human rights protection regime (Universal Periodic Review, treaty bodies, Special Rapporteurs, etc.) and the SDG accountability mechanisms (in particular the High-Level Political Forum) could drive improved accountability, he concluded.

In her remarks, Asha-Rose Migiro, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Tanzania, stressed the importance of human rights and rule of law, underscoring the fact that 7 in 10 children in developing countries are not registered at birth. In addition, she highlighted the the challenge of closing the poverty gap between rural and urban settings. Central to all of these efforts is good governance as it is critical for strengthening the rule of law, she underscored.

Panel Discussion 2

The second panel discussion considered: “Towards a transformational development agenda: integrating human rights and rule of law with a view to improving development outcomes.” It was moderated by Juan Manuel Goméz-Robledo, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of Mexico.

In his remarks, Minister Lagumdžija, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, considered the interlinkages between democracies, democratic institutions and capacity building, suggesting that rule of law is a tool for human rights. He drew attention to the need to create human capacity with a sense of solidarity, driven by moral values and ethics.

Saraswathi Menon, Director, Policy Division, UN-Women, raised four points on the “how” of including human rights in the new agenda moving forward. First, there should be a holistic understanding of human rights and efforts need to be made to ensure that the new framework is universally applicable “because there is no country that is immune from poverty, inequality and discrimination.” Second, it should include explicit targets not only to reduce inequalities but also to eliminate all forms of discrimination, in particular gender inequality, the most pervasive violation of human rights. Third, the new agenda must include a strong accountability framework that identifies rights holders and holds all States – developed and developing alike – accountable for their commitments, while taking into account the different levels of development of States. Fourth, Ms. Menon underscored that human rights are relevant not only at national level but also at international level, as human rights are respected and promoted through the right to development and international cooperation in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She highlighted the importance of creating an international environment that is conducive to the realization of human rights, and includes policy space and coherence. “Only then,” she concluded, “can we ensure real progress for all women and men and girls and boys.”

In his remarks, James Goldston, Executive Director, Open Society Justice Initiative, underlined a few of the day-to-day consequences of barriers to justice that many people around the world experience:

• Without secure property rights or means for claiming them, poor people cannot invest.

• Without reliable and responsive criminal justice institutions, people do not feel safe to send their children to school or go to market to trade.

• Without legal identity, one cannot access services, open a bank account or, in some countries, acquire a mobile phone.

• Rule of law deficits – corruption, armed conflict, inefficient public institutions – perpetuate poverty and inequality.

Considering the question – “How concretely do we integrate justice and governance in the development agenda” – he raised three points for reflection.

1. Justice and governance are critical for development

Mr. Goldston drew attention to the World Bank’s Development Report 2011 that found that addressing injustice and insecurity is fundamental to poverty reduction. “In the years since, evidence of the links between justice and development has only expanded,” he stressed. Mr. Goldston further noted that when both government and civil society groups support people to understand and claim their legal rights, “development processes are not only more inclusive and equitable, they also drive better health, stronger educational outcomes, and wealthier communities.”

2. Targets for the new development framework

Acknowledging that many governments around the world – as well as the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Post-2015, the OWG on SDGs and others – have offered suggestions for potential targets, he put forward concrete recommendations contained in a statement developed by over 200 civil society organizations from 50 countries. These recommendations, he noted, have been endorsed by eminent persons including Desmond Tutu, Mo Ibrahim, and former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and the United States.

Recommendations include:

• Governments should ensure that access to legal identity is universal and all people can participate fully in society. A target could be to “ensure that no one suffers from a lack of legal identity.”

• Governments should ensure that communities and individuals, including women, have secure rights to land and property. A target could be to “increase the amount of land for which communities have secure tenure and decisions are taken through an open and accountable process” or to “increase the share of women, men and communities with secure rights to land and property.”

• People should know about the laws and regulations that govern their lives, particularly those concerning essential services. A target could be to “guarantee the public’s right to information and to access government data.”

• Finally, citizens must have a role in shaping the fundamental, everyday work of their governments. A target could be to “ensure the participation of citizens in monitoring essential services, including water, healthcare, and education.”

3. Indicators of progress under the new development framework

Mr. Goldston responded to a frequently voiced concern heard in the debates: “justice is not measurable.” He noted, however, that governments, supported by academia, civil society and international organizations, have a long tradition of using indicators to monitor progress towards justice and governance. Because a single indicator is often insufficient, governments and academics are increasingly creating baskets of indicators that capture progress across different dimensions through various data sources, including, for example, administrative indicators, performance in the Human Development Index, expert evaluation of the conformity of national laws and regulations with international human rights treaties and conventions, he concluded.

In her remarks, Amal Al Basha, Chairperson, Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, emphasized that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda must address the root causes of human rights violations and conflict, build on existing commitments to promote sustainable development and peace, and bring people to the centre of policy processes and outcomes. Human rights can only be realized, she stressed, if inequalities of power, wealth and resources are reduced; ensuring that governments are investing in and budgeting for peace – and not increasing militarization – is key. “The effects of militarism, military spending, and the arms trade erode gender equality and the realization of women’s rights. Sustainable development, peace and security require protections of human rights through the rule of law for women’s full and equal participation and leadership,” she urged.

According to Ms. Al Basha, the new development agenda should:

• Link existing human rights accountability mechanisms at the regional and global levels in its accountability discussion;

• Stimulate transparency and participation in decision-making at all levels, including in budgetary policies;

• Be backed by national mechanisms of accountability, such as judiciaries, parliaments and national human rights institutions, and reinforced by regional and international human rights mechanisms;

• Tackle structural drivers of inequality, poverty and ecological devastation; and

• Integrate meaningful institutions and systems to ensure human rights accountability of all development actors, amongst others.

Neva Frecheville, Lead Policy Analyst, CAFOD, noted that for the post-2015 framework to be fundamentally transformative, it needs to be people centred, directly incorporating the perspective of those living in poverty and protecting the rights of the most poor and marginalized. Targets and indicators must be feasible and applicable. The active participation of citizens in creating, monitoring and using the framework is essential to its success, she underscored.

Closing session

During the closing session, the moderators of the panels presented summaries of key points emerging from the panel discussions. In his closing remarks, the President of the General Assembly highlighted the importance and universality of issues discussed over the two days. He informed participants that as this was the final event in the series of six events he had convened on the post-2015 development agenda, the next step would be astock-taking exercise that would be held on 8-9 September. [insert link to article] The objective of this exercise would be to provide inputs to the Secretary-General’s synthesis report, which will be made available to Member States later in the year and will serve as the basis for the intergovernmental negotiations that will take place during the 69th session of the General Assembly.

More information

The PGA’s page for the two-day event includes key documents, presentations, and links to the other PGA events on “Setting the Stage” for post-2015: click here for more information.

Click here for part 1 of the webcast (morning) on 9 June.

Click here for part 2 of the webcast on 9 June (afternoon).

Click here for part 3 of the webcast on 10 June (morning).

Click here for part 4 of the webcast on 10 June (afternoon).

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