(New York) - The G20  countries  should insist on development plans that are firmly grounded in human rights principles as they meet this weekend,  Human Rights Watch said today. The heads of government of the G20 countries are meeting in Toronto to discuss how best to further the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.

It is widely acknowledged that the Millennium Development Goals will not be reached by their target date of 2015, and one of the agenda items for the summit meeting  is to seek additional financial support for the goals. Human Rights Watch research points to corruption, barriers to equality, and a lack of educational opportunity as major obstacles toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

"Human rights violations such as discrimination and inequality are consistent barriers to economic growth," said Marianne Mollmann, advocate for women's rights at Human Rights Watch. "No development plan will ever be fully effective unless it tackles these obstacles head-on."

The summit meeting  is focusing particular attention on strategies to improve maternal health,  the Millennium Development Goal that is furthest behind schedule. In an effort to improve this record, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in May proposed a Joint Action Plan for Women's and Children's Health. This plan will form the basis for renewed financial commitments from donors, and is likely to be discussed and potentially endorsed at the G20 meeting.

"The G20 should absolutely back coordinated action in the critical area of maternal health,"  Mollmann said. "But they should insist on an evidence-based approach. And evidence shows that human rights principles such as accountability, empowerment, and equality are critical to reducing maternal deaths."

The draft joint action plan is weak on the human rights dimensions that would ensure its success, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch is submitting recommendations to the UN to strengthen the plan.

In particular, the plan should promote accountability for maternal health programs by:

  • Providing for monitoring to ensure that countries effectively investigate maternal deaths;
  • Promoting equitable access to emergency obstetric care;
  • Promoting the creation of grievance and redress procedures; and
  • Insisting on improving birth and death registration.