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UN: Put Human Rights at Heart of New Development Agenda

Tackle Discrimination & Inequality in Post-2015 Plan; Make Development More Inclusive

World leaders should commit to fully integrating human rights into the post-2015 global development agenda and targets when they meet at a special event at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, Human Rights Watch said today.

Despite progress in recent years, the overall impact of development efforts has been diminished by the neglect of human rights, including their omission from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, said Human Rights Watch. A new Human Rights Watch report shows that a lack of focus on human rights leads to exclusion, discrimination, and inequality.

“Development will not deliver for the poorest and most marginalized people in the world without a strong focus on human rights,” said Iain Levine, deputy executive director for program at Human Rights Watch. “The post-2015 agenda needs to tackle discrimination, exclusion, and inequality, and guarantee the participation of poor people themselves in the development programs designed to help them.”

Many people have been denied the benefits of economic progress or access to economic opportunities, resources, and services as a result of discrimination linked to gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion, caste, or other social status.  For example, Human Rights Watch has documented major and systemic barriers to education for children with disabilities in Nepal and China.

The Millennium Development Goals do not include goals or targets for marginalized populations – such as people with disabilities – and are not grounded in a human rights framework. As a result, there has been no incentive or accountability for national governments, bilateral donors, or international financial institutions to address inequality or discrimination in the current development agenda, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch research over a number of years has demonstrated the risk of abuse or exclusion when development is not rooted in human rights. Such programs often leave the poorest and most marginalized communities behind, including women, children, ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

A post-2015 agenda firmly grounded in human rights would draw attention to issues of discrimination and inequality and prompt action to address them. A rights-based approach to development would also strengthen accountability, with decision-makers answerable for the impact of their policies on a country’s poorest people.

Human rights have emerged as a major theme from the UN-led process and debate to set a post-2015 development agenda. At the General Assembly special event and over the next year, it will be important to reinforce commitments to human rights where they exist and to further strengthen commitments to rights across the whole of the sustainable development agenda.  Governments should make commitments in a number of specific areas:

  • Setting goals and targets for tackling discrimination, reducing disparities, and promoting equality of opportunity between different groups, as well as concrete targets for improving the conditions of the poorest and most marginalized, including ethnic minorities, indigenous people, and people with disabilities.
  • Supporting gender equality and women’s rights, including through a requirement on governments to work to end gender discrimination and promote equality in their laws, policies, and practices, and action to prevent and punish violence against women and ensure adequate services for victims of abuse.  
  • Including in the post-2015 development agenda a requirement for national governments and international donors to frame their approach to economic and social development with clear commitments to progressively realize human rights for all and with strengthened systems of participation, transparency and accountability. The human rights commitments should include plans for improving health, education, nutrition, water and sanitation, land and housing.
  • Making civil and politicalrights integral to the post-2015 agenda, including the rights to freedom of speech, association, and assembly, the ability of people to participate in free elections, and access to justice.
  • Setting mandatory requirements on corporations to undertake human rights due diligence around their work and publicly report on their human rights, social and environmental impacts, as well as their payments to domestic or foreign governments.
  • Requiring respect for human rights by international financial institutions, in all their development policies and programs.
  • Making the post-2015 agenda universal – with commitments applicable to all countries, not just low income ones – and strengthening accountability for delivering on these commitments to inclusive, sustainable, and rights-respecting development.

“This week’s discussion at the UN is a critical moment for the development agenda,” Levine said. “The world’s government should reject a narrow or overly technical approach to development, and instead embrace a broad approach in which people everywhere can realize their universal rights and live free from want and fear.”

To read the reports referenced in the Human Rights Watch development report, please visit:






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