Human Rights: The Key to Keeping the Promise of 2015

02 Jul 2010

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark's Statement to OHCHR

United Nations
2 July 2010

Check Against Delivery

UNDP’s relationships with national human rights institutions flow from our core mission of human development. Human development is about expanding the choices people have to lead lives which they value, the resources which would make those choices meaningful, and the security to ensure that those choices can be exercised in peace.

That means ensuring that the full range of factors which impact on human development get adequate attention.  

The three pillars of the UN - peace and security, development, and human rights - are closely interlinked. UNDP’s development work sits in that context. Human development embraces the range of social, economic, cultural, and political rights defined by the international community.

A number of recent UNDP publications have examined the links between human rights and human development. We have also issued guidance for development practitioners in the field on how to include human rights and governance issues in poverty reduction strategies.  

Making these links between the human development approach and human rights instruments and international laws is also consistent with the approach set out in the Millennium Declaration.

By signing that document in 2000, Heads of State and Government committed themselves to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; strengthening capacity for democracy and human rights; implementing the Convention for the Elimination of the Discrimination Against Women; ensuring respect and protection for the rights of migrant workers and their families; working collectively for more inclusive political processes; and ensuring freedom of the media and public access to information.  

The words of the Millennium 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 recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.”

That provides a clear link between human rights and the eight Millennium Development Goals – around which the international community has agreed to reduce hunger and extreme poverty; achieve gender equality and universal primary school education; improve child and maternal health; halt and reverse the spread of deadly diseases; protect the environment; and forge strong global partnerships for development.

Much progress on the MDGs has been made.  There have been sizeable reductions in global poverty and child mortality, and increases in primary school enrolment and access to safe drinking water.

Many countries, including some of the poorest, have recorded impressive successes.  Ethiopia, for example, has tripled the net primary school enrolment ratio since 1990. The under-five mortality rate has fallen by at least forty per cent in Malawi.

Challenges remained, however, in achieving the goals even before the food, fuel, and economic crises of recent years – and, for some countries, the catastrophic natural disasters. It is estimated that the numbers of chronically hungry people living in our world had risen to over one billion by 2009 – around 130 million more than before the food crisis hit.  

Global progress also tends to obscure the lack of traction for significant populations both within countries and across regions.

In particular, women, rural inhabitants, ethnic minorities, and other excluded groups often lag well behind national averages of progress on the MDG targets – even when nations as a whole are moving towards the goals.

There is a pressing need to target support to those who are excluded, build on the lessons countries and communities have learned, and make a concerted effort to overcome the bottlenecks which constrain progress.  

In September of this year, a high level review Summit on the MDGs will be held at the United Nations in New York.  

This is a big opportunity for world leaders to review commitments to the MDGs and agree on the concrete steps all development actors must take to accelerate progress towards them.

In doing so, I agree with the High Commissioner for Human Rights that we should “focus on improving the rights and dignity of those left behind.” It is significant that the Secretary-General’s report on MDG progress, “Keeping the Promise”, identifies adhering to human rights as an important element in accelerating progress.

UNDP is presently heavily engaged in looking at how progress on the MDGs might be accelerated, even in the face of all the current challenges to development.  

We want to base our efforts on thorough national and sub-national analysis of the structural, social, and economic causes of development successes or failures – including understanding which groups have been excluded from progress and why.  

Clearly a gender perspective needs to be applied to the review. After all, it is in areas where women’s needs and status have low priority that the MDGs struggle the most to be met.  

Recognizing that also directs us to rights issues more generally.

The denial of human rights, and the persistence of exclusion, discrimination, and a lack of accountability are barriers to the pursuit of human development and the MDGs.

Global, regional, and national human rights institutions can play and are playing a critical role in overcoming those barriers.

There are strong complementarities between the MDGs and human rights commitments. While MDGs and human rights are separate concepts, in practice there are synergies.  

We can learn from human rights approaches which seek to address the root causes of development problems. As Kofi Annan once said: “human rights can be found at the heart of every major challenge facing humanity”.

I understand that some national human rights institutions are looking to use the MDGs as a ‘road map’ to determine their priorities, and to track and monitor progress in achieving economic, social, and cultural rights.

I am told that Malaysia, for example, took this approach in 2005. Its National Human Rights Commission, SUHAKAM, with support from UNDP, brought policy makers together to integrate human rights principles in the development and implementation of country-specific MDG targets and indicators

UNDP’s role and current collaboration with the ICC and OHCHR

UNDP’s work on the MDGs fits well with our long term mission to build and strengthen the national capacities and institutions which drive development progress.

Our work in this area has three components:
  • We work to expand people’s opportunities to participate in decision making processes, particularly those who are traditionally excluded, including women and the poor. Somewhere in the world, on average every couple of weeks, we are involved with an election. We encourage more women to enter politics and we promote the development of a free and informed media. 
  • We work to support legislatures becoming effective on behalf of the citizens they serve. We support initiatives in around one third of the world’s national parliaments, and support the improvement of capacity in public administration to deliver basic services.
  • Third, we promote better governance, including by helping countries expand access to justice, tackle corruption, and advance human rights.
As part of this effort, UNDP works to strengthen the capacity of national human rights institutions and to create them where they don’t exist. We understand that the human rights institutions, which comply with the Paris Principles  play an especially important role in advocating for the provisions of human rights treaties to be reflected in legislation, policy, and practice.

National human rights institutions are often short of resources, capacity, and expertise - including legal and management expertise. In this respect, assessing those capacity needs and how to meet them is an important part of the support we can give in partnership with others.

In January 2008, 94 UNDP country offices reported that they were working with national human rights institutions. In many cases, this occurred in partnership with the OHCHR and/or with an ICC regional co-ordinating committee.

This work falls within UNDP’s “Justice and Human Rights” programme, an area in our governance portfolio where we have had growing requests for our services from countries.  

Working together with the Asia Pacific Forum of national human rights institutions, for example, UNDP’s Regional Centre in Bangkok has undertaken assessments for the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives. Two further assessments are planned for 2010.

An example of what UNDP and national human rights institutions are able to do in partnership can be found in the Philippines. There the National Human Rights Commission is a main implementing partner for UNDP’s rule of law and human rights programmes.  With capacity support from the UN, I am told that the Commission was able to influence government policy in favor of human rights- based approaches to development, and develop a pool of trainers who can support human rights activities through government and partner projects.

More than half our 135 country offices reported in 2008 that they were undertaking work explicitly to support the rights of groups which are discriminated, vulnerable, and/or otherwise marginalized; and more than a third reported that they were assisting efforts to harmonize national legislation with internationally ratified human rights law.

UNDP’s role on human rights is neither a normative nor a monitoring one, but rather one of developing capacity. We are a development organisation – not a specialized human rights agency. That is why our partnership with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is so important, as it brings technical expertise to the table.

We have jointly developed a UNDP-OHCHR Toolkit to guide our work with national human rights institutions. The aim is to provide our staff with a practical resource to support the establishment and consolidation of these important institutions.

We have also worked together, under the leadership of the UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, to publish a UNDP Resource Guide and Toolkit on Minorities in Development. It will help development practitioners to understand the conceptual issues and principles related to the promotion and protection of minority rights, as well as to draw on international and regional standards for engaging minorities in programming processes.

For 2010, UNDP’s Regional Service Centres in Bangkok, Dakar, Johannesburg, Bratislava, Cairo, and Fiji have held discussions with their counterpart in OHCHR Regional Offices to agree on joint work programmes. These would cover capacity assessments and support for national human rights institutions, regional consultations in support of the Universal Periodic Review Process of the Human Rights Council, and other efforts in support of civil society and national human rights institutions’ engagement with international human rights instruments and mechanisms.