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When George Osborne visited China last month, he spoke gushingly about the huge opportunities for British businesses there.

When George Osborne visited China last month, he spoke gushingly about the huge opportunities for British businesses there. “Part of my job here”, he said, “is to help explain to the British people what’s going in China and how exciting it is.”

After the Fanfare, What Progress Will Be Made?

So, after all the rhetoric and fanfare and marches and celebrity appearances, when the presidents and prime ministers have all gone home and the Sustainable Development Goals have been formally approved, what will have changed for the world’s three billion people living on less than $2.50 per day?

Whatever the limitations of the SDGs, the real challenge now is to support and promote their implementation. To succeed, progress needs to be scrutinized and governments held to account for the commitments they have made to the very communities and people whose lives they affect.

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 27, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

On this front, there are reasons for concern. The mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing the post-2015 agenda are “vague and entirely voluntary,” according to one expert closely involved with the process.

How could they be improved? Start by including a regular, global review of progress on SDGs similar to the Universal Periodic Review of the United Nations Human Rights Council in which every government has to present its human rights record for scrutiny by other governments every five years. That can be supplemented with comprehensive reporting by governments, civil society groups and the UN system to ensure the most complete and credible analysis of progress.

But just as importantly, holding governments to account depends on open participation by civil society – at the local, national, regional and international levels. As the recent report of the special rapporteur for human rights defenders noted, those “promoting and defending rights relating to land, the environment and corporate responsibility” are the most vulnerable to attacks, intimidation, forced disappearances and other threats. These are the very people working on issues of just and sustainable development. Human Rights Watch’s own work has found that the World Bank has “done little to prevent or dissuade governments from intimidating critics of the projects it funds, or monitor for reprisals.” 

For the SDGs to have a chance to reach their lofty targets, governments and major international institutions, including development donors, both need to recognize that a vibrant civil society, a free media, genuinely democratic political processes, and an independent judiciary are essential for the impoverished and marginalized to be able to demand accountability for progress made - and not made. Ultimately, development has to mean enhanced freedom – especially for those at greatest risk.  

 

Hissène Habré Trial to Resume

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

Slow Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) Denies the Rights of Women and Girls in Armed Conflict

This document sets out the commitments that the international community has since made to women and girls affected by armed conflict and outlines the major disappointments and gaps in implementation in three distinct but interconnected areas: participation; protection and assistance; and accountability. It also makes recommendations to governments, to all parties to armed conflicts, and to the UN on how to turn the promises made to women and girls in these three areas into reality. 

Hissène Habré Accused of Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes, Torture

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government.

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal today. 

Covid-19 Art Project to Benefit Humanitarian Action

Ai Weiwei, the famed Chinese artist and activist, is a creative thorn in the side of Chinese authorities. Human Rights Watch is proud to join with Ai this week in a project of mass activism that also raises funds for our work on human rights in the pandemic.

Serious Restrictions on Right to Free Assembly Remain

This week, Kazakhstan’s President Kasym-Jomart Tokaev signed into law new legislation supposedly reforming the right to protest in the country.

Ensure Access to Health Care, Sanitation, Information

(Nairobi) – Kenyan authorities are potentially facilitating transmission of the Covid-19 virus while forcefully quarantining tens of thousands of people in facilities that lack proper sanitation, protective equipment and food, Human Rights Watch, Kenya Human Rights Commission, and Journalists for Justice said today.

Iranian Officials Should Cooperate in Impartial Investigation

Almost a month after reports emerged of the alleged drowning by Iranian border authorities of Afghan migrants attempting to cross the border into Iran, efforts to uncover the truth have achieved little.