By H E N R Y KOH (Intern with United Nations Human Rights, Asia Pacific, Bangkok office – Since 2015)
*A perspective focusing on the UN’s latest SDG goals and how the goals can be achieved by strengthening human rights structures/institutions
- Human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) served as a proxy for certain economic and social rights but ignored other important human rights linkages. By contrast, human rights principles and standards are now strongly reflected in an ambitious new global development framework, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- The new Agenda that was presented during the 2015 UN General Assembly covers a broad set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 167 targets and will serve as the overall framework to guide global and national development action for the next 15 years.
-The SDGs are the result of the most consultative and inclusive process in the history of the United Nations. Grounded in international human rights law, the agenda offers critical opportunities to further advance the realization of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination.
Relation between the SDGs & Human Rights:
1. The new agenda is guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law; grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. It is informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development.
2. Taking a look at some of the 17 SDGs (human rights issues at stake):
· Achieve gender equality and empower all women. End harmful practices to girls at a young age such as forced early marriage and female genital mutilation.
· Ending poverty & hunger
· Ensuring healthy lives for all age groups. By 2030, the World Health Organization aims to end the epidemic of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria
· Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
· Reduce inequality within and among countries
· Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
3. The SGDs resolution agenda is a universal agenda. This means it is applicable to all state members, including Malaysia. Looking back at the highlights of the SDGs mentioned earlier, they are difficult to be implemented without a sustainable and effective human rights mechanism in every nation. This includes a well-structured and vocal National Human Rights Institution, active NGOs, CSOs and human rights defenders. Eg: COMANGO can be a good and strong coalition body for all rights groups.
4. State government’s participation and the granting of adequate autonomy to the various human rights institutions and defenders are important to allow them to have the access to monitor without fear. Human rights institution works like ‘watch-dog’ and inquiry body over any human rights violations. However, certain laws curtailing freedom of expression make it hard for these institutions to fully carry out their duties and mandates.
5. When human rights institutions have limited access on what they cannot interfere, it is most likely to affect the monitoring process of the progress of the SDGs. In aiming to reach the goals within the desired period, in the context of UN’s SDGs resolution agenda; year 2030, an active and progressive network of rights groups or institutions across one’s nation is definitely vital.
6. Among the SGDs that were highlighted earlier, all of them are linked back to basic human rights, which are unfortunately neglected or violated even in this age that we are living in. To achieve that, it will depend on the creation of a strong ‘follow-up and review’ framework to ensure that SDG commitments are met. The follow up and review architecture, at national, regional and global levels should be universal, participatory, and transparent. It must ensure accountability of all relevant actors including the private sector, and track that ‘no one is being left behind’ by monitoring progress with data fully disaggregated by population groups. The framework should be evidence based, on the basis of a data revolution underpinned by human rights.
7. A good mechanism that the UN has been using to ensure a global participation among its member states towards making the SDGs(which are deeply rooted with human rights issues) is the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review(UPR). The UPR takes place every 5 years(for example Malaysia’s latest UPR was in 2013 and the upcoming review in 2018). The objectives of the UPR are to assess progress and constraints in implementation on the basis of constructive dialogue among the UN and state members. The global country review process will also be important in providing a unique opportunity to discuss global “means of implementation” commitments.
8. The national reviews of SDG progress should also integrate reports and recommendations from the existing human rights review processes in which States already participate. They should incorporate information from existing national mechanisms for oversight and review on matters related to the SDGs, including the parliament or other legitimate decision-making body, National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and standing national reporting and coordination mechanisms for human rights. At a national level, the role of rights groups could make a great impact towards a good UPR, which directly goes hand in hand with having a progressive level of human rights in a particular nation. We have to always remember the wise words of Gandhi that is known to many of us, “change begins with oneself”. This notion has so much truth in it. A turning point or good revolution in a nation’s human rights development depends on the mindset of the people. What we do and what will we encourage others to do could change to bring a positive resolution process of the SDGs which will eventually improve the human rights issues that are still plaguing one’s nation.
**Human rights can continue to exist without the SDGs, but the SDGs cannot exist without human rights principles.
Views shared at the Proham Human Rights Day Speech contest among law students where Hery shared his views prior to the start of the contest. Dec 8, 2015 at BAC-PJ Campus