Helen Clark: Speech on “Democratic Governance, Human Rights, and Development” at NORAD's Annual Conference, Oslo, Norway

Dec 11, 2014

I thank Norad for inviting me to address this year’s Annual Conference with its special focus on how development co-operation can strengthen democracy and human rights.

There could neither be a better time nor a better place to deliver an address on this year’s conference theme. Human Rights Day was commemorated around the world yesterday. On the same day, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded here in Oslo to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi - outstanding champions of the rights of children and young people. I will be pleased, along with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to join Kailash, and my colleague, Flavia Pansieri, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in the panel discussion later.

In my speech today, I will explore four themes:
1. why democracy – or democratic governance more broadly – and human rights matter for human development;
2. how development co-operation has supported democratic governance and human rights, and the lessons learned from that work;
3. why and how partnerships are crucial to these endeavours; and
4. looking ahead – what the strategic priorities for this work could be in the future.

Why democratic governance and human rights matter for human development

Democracy and human rights are important objectives in and of themselves. But, at the same time, they are also important enablers of human development by helping to create conditions in which people can thrive. Human development recognizes people as the real wealth of a nation. Making progress on human development benefits from the empowerment of people, and democracy and human rights are fundamentally about empowering people.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, one of the pioneers of UNDP’s human development approach, makes this point clearly. In his book, Development is Freedom, he states that “Democratic governance truly contributes to development by enhancing individual freedom, and such freedom is founded in the protection of human rights and ensured by strong, national institutions.”

This powerful statement linking democratic governance and human rights with human development helps guide UNDP’s work around the world. We promote principles of good governance rather than particular systems of government. Those principles include transparency, participation, inclusion, effectiveness, and accountability.

In our work, we support countries to give practical expression to the commitments they have made to international human rights conventions. This approach lies at the heart of our new Strategic Plan which recognises “the intrinsic value of the body of economic, political, social, civil, and cultural rights established by the United Nations that are pursued through the human rights-based and other approaches” .

How development co-operation has supported democratic governance and human rights

In 2000, Heads of State and Government, including me as New Zealand Prime Minister at the time, signed the Millennium Declaration. The words of the Declaration could not be clearer: “We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.”

The Declaration went on to say that the signatories resolved to respect and uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; strive for the full protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights for all; strengthen capacity for democracy and respect for human rights, including minority rights; implement the Convention for the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women and combat all forms of violence against women; ensure respect and protection for the human rights of migrants and their families; work collectively for more inclusive political processes, allowing genuine participation by all citizens in our countries; and ensure freedom of the media and public access to information.

Thus the Millenium Declaration, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all UN human rights instruments convey a vision of a better, fairer, and more just world. Directly and indirectly, they guide the scope of work of organisations like UNDP and its sister agencies in the UN, and thereby shape the values and priorities of our practitioners in UN Country Teams around the world.

While UNDP has neither a normative nor a monitoring role in human rights, the emergence of the human development paradigm with its people-centred approach in the 1990s provided fresh perspectives on how our work could support the realisation of human rights, and help build the institutional capacity for more inclusive, responsive, and accountable governance. Our work on democratic governance supports the right to human dignity, the right to have a say in decisions affecting one’s life, and principles of empowerment and equity.

At the UN General Assembly’s High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law in 2012, Member States agreed that the advancement of the rule of law at national and international levels is essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth, sustainable development, the eradication of poverty, and the full realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development - all of which in turn reinforce the rule of law.

All these global commitments inspire UNDP’s long-term mission to build and strengthen national capacities and institutions which drive development progress, empower civil society and expand people’s opportunities to participate in decision-making processes, particularly for those who are traditionally excluded - including women and young people, and poor communities.

Our work on democratic governance includes support to institutions, such as parliaments, to become more effective on behalf of the citizens they serve. It includes building the capacity of public administrations to deliver basic services and engage better with communities. We help countries to expand access to justice, tackle corruption, and implement the human rights commitments they have made when ratifying international instruments.

Today, more than half our Country Offices are undertaking work which explicitly advances the rights of groups which are discriminated against, vulnerable, and/or otherwise marginalised. More than sixty of our Country Offices report that they are working with host countries to support governments in their efforts to realize human rights through specific support for National Human Rights Institutions, including through work on the harmonisation of national legislation with internationally ratified human rights law and the mainstreaming of human rights.

Allow me to give you some examples:

In response to Member State requests, UNDP works to strengthen the capacity of national human rights institutions. In Timor Leste, for example, we supported the Provedoria for Human Rights and Justice by helping to introduce new legal and operational management policies, train staff, draft relevant policies and legislation, and design methodology and tools for strategic planning. In Croatia, we supported the establishment of the People’s Ombudsman as one of the main institutions providing a redress mechanism for citizens, in particular as it worked to uphold new anti-discrimination legislation. The system has become a model for the region.

We also support governments to meet their obligations under the Universal Periodic Review process of the UN Human Rights Council. Such support has been provided to a diverse range of countries, including Ecuador, Lao PDR, Rwanda, Turkmenistan, and Yemen.

We work to protect the rights of all people living with HIV, and to prevent the spread of the virus, including by reaching out to at risk communities. These include men having sex with men, sex workers, and injecting drug users. With partners, UNDP has supported some 84 countries to advance the recommendations of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, which we established and serviced. Legal and policy reform to extend the full protection of the law and uphold the rights of all is vital to turning the tide on HIV.

In these efforts, we work closely with civil society partners to strengthen human rights protection for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) communities. I am pleased to see Frank Mugisha from SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) in Uganda here with us today, a prominent advocate for legal protection for marginalised groups.

We provide rule of law support to more than one hundred developing countries, including countries badly affected by conflict and crisis. Through this work, we help strengthen the capacity of governments to govern better, deliver justice, and improve the capacities of people to access legal services, ultimately helping to strengthen protection against violence and discrimination.

In Somalia, for example, Norway has been a major supporter of our work on governance and rule of law. Through UNDP’s programme, mobile courts and legal aid clinics have been established. As a result, the number of people accessing the formal justice system each year has increased dramatically. We have been able to provide support for female law graduates through internships and other opportunities. While women should be able to work across the justice sector, it is also important that they can be visible in the administration of the law on gender-specific injustices, including those related to child custody, inheritance, and land and property rights.

Norwegian support to UNDP in Uganda has helped to strengthen women’s property rights through the “Slum Women’s Initiative for Development” – an important step in advancing gender equality. Challenges around land tenure were mapped, and women were supported in better understanding the tenure process and their rights. Corruption declined, and trust between civil society and land authorities increased.

We thank Norway for its consistently strong support to UNDP’s multi-faceted anti-corruption efforts as another important pillar of democratic governance.

Lessons Learned

UNDP’s 2010 Human Development Report, The Real Wealth of Nations, revealed the enormous diversity of pathways to human development. Perhaps the most important lesson from our work in this area, is that there is no one formula for democratic governance nor for transitions to it. Countries can be “differently democratic”. We work in many different contexts to to advance democratic governance.

Young and older democracies alike share the common objective of achieving more effective, accountable, and responsive governance. Such systems expand people’s freedom and choices, enabling them to live lives they value. This is the vision for human development which informs UNDP’s work.

Today, the large majority of developing countries are formal democracies . More people than ever before now live in countries which are based on the rule of law and party to international human rights treaties. There are now over one hundred National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) which are the cornerstone of national systems of the promotion and protection of human rights. The majority of these NHRIs comply with international standards.

This is all good news. Assessments of global progress, however, tend to obscure the lack of gains for significant populations, both within countries and across regions. In particular, women, ethnic minorities, and other often excluded groups continue to lag behind. Growing inequality in many countries, and the unequal fulfilment of human rights undermine democratic governance. There is a pressing need to overcome problems of exclusion and marginalisation. Every day news media report horrific and distressing human rights violations around the world. This must motivate us all to do more to see the UN’s vision for human rights fulfilled and its instruments upheld and implemented.

Inclusive governance requires citizens to be able to participate in meaningful ways, and to be able to make their voices heard. Wherever it can, UNDP supports countries’ efforts to establish environments in which political parties, civil society, and free and ethical media can flourish, and where women, youth, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, and other often excluded groups can participate and be well represented.

In our role as a multilateral development partner, we support adherence to international norms within a wide range of political and development contexts. Our new Strategic Plan emphasises the need for democratic governance to promote voice, the rule of law, and accountability, and to build institutional capacities to deliver basic services to all and empower people to claim their rights.

Importance of strong partnerships in achieving these priorities

UNDP brings to partnerships its universal presence and decades of experience in policy support and capacity development at the intersection of democratic governance, human rights, and human development. We have a proven ability to influence policy and build capacity. We are also seen as a trusted partner, working across sectors and with multiple stakeholders, often on very sensitive issues.

Our partnerships with civil society are crucial in raising public awareness, promoting participation and voice, and creating space for an informed and inclusive policy dialogue with government.

The private sector, foundations, and think tanks are increasingly important to our work. In 2013, UNDP’s Oslo Governance Centre worked with the Foundation for the Future to bring together leading think tanks from six countries in the Arab States region to discuss their vital roles in democratic transitions.

The strong support of bilateral partners like Norway is essential for multilateral institutions like UNDP to deliver on their mandate to advance democratic governance. Beyond providing the major financial resources which are essential, Norway and other partners engage through our Executive Board to help us set priorities, facilitate dialogue, and evaluate what works. Norway’s highly valued contribution to UNDP as our largest core funder helps to provide us with the corporate building blocks necessary for delivering on our mandate – including on our vital work on democratic governance and human rights.

Our partnership with Norway extends to many very successful country-level initiatives and to support for our Democratic Governance Thematic Trust Fund, Global Human Rights Strengthening Programme, Global Programme on Anti-Corruption, and Oslo Governance Centre. With Norway’s generous support, our work is making a difference to the lives of people around the world.

Looking ahead – strategic priorities for democratic governance and human rights

The Millennium Development Goals are due to run their course by the end of 2015. Discussion is well advanced on what the next global development agenda might look like.

The UN development system has facilitated an unprecedented number of global and national consultations on the shaping of the new agenda. These have enabled people from all walks of life around the world – including from the poorest and most marginalised communities – to share their hopes and priorities for the future.

It is no surprise that health, education, and opportunities to work came out as people’s top priorities in the consultations. What was fascinating, however, was that honest and responsive governance came next, indicating that people around the world know how important that is for getting sustained and inclusive development results.

It is important that the post-2015 agenda reflects the hopes and aspirations of the world’s peoples. That will increase both its legitimacy and the level of confidence people have in global processes.

For UNDP, it is significant that the proposals of the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals are very much in line with the outcomes of the UN-led consultations. Goal 16 on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions addresses the very foundations of development. Its proposed targets include promoting the rule of law and participatory and representative decision-making, tackling corruption; and promoting and enforcing laws against discrimination. Many of these targets are inspired by international human rights instruments.

The outcome of the public consultations on post-2015 and the proposals by the Open Working Group suggest that the international community increasingly recognizes that democratic governance, human rights, and sustainable development are intertwined. That insight is not novel to Norway, which has been advocating for an holistic approach to development for many years.

I would therefore like to conclude by thanking and commending Norway for being such a strong leader, advocate, and partner in UNDP’s efforts to strengthen governance and human rights for development.

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