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writing for godot

The SDGs do not really heed human rights; they dehumanize processes and go for results.

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Saturday, 21 March 2020 22:23

Human rights: Food for a-race-to-nowhere thought  ‘SDGs and HR’


Human Rights Reader 521


-It is here fitting to paraphrase the adage of seeing the trees and not the forest. As the world tries to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), most practitioners do not see the persons as rights holders. (Nury Gajardo)


The implementation of Agenda 2030 (SDGs) is not just a matter of better policies (CESR)


1. Better late than never, its implementation will require more holistic and more sweeping shifts putting at the center the issue of how and where power is vested, including through institutional, legal and political (non-) commitments to fulfilling human rights (HR). The hard wiring of HR in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) calls for a potentially much more powerful corrective move to fix the serious governance deficits that have emerged around Agenda 2030 since 2015. Current global and national governance arrangements are simply hindering implementation of the SDGs.


2. The current system of global economic governance, that is dominated by the richest countries and has led to the inequality crisis, cannot be trusted to play a constructive role in the transformation needed. In this context, reforms supported or demanded by the IMF have further entrenched inequalities and wreaked devastation on the HR of many groups.


3. There is an urgent need for a realistic, critical assessment of how and why progress on Goal 10 (on reducing inequalities) is lagging seriously behind stymied by a lack of political will to significantly shift power at national and global levels as needed to implement the necessary redistributive policies. Human rights activists need to demand urgent and concrete actions to remedy inequalities, without which progress across all the SDGs will remain blocked. As critical tools in this endeavor, we must highlight the need for rights-based, redistributive fiscal policies and major reforms of the global economic governance to remedy the extreme imbalance of power between countries and the primacy of HR norms and principles as a roadmap and a litmus test for assessing progress. (CESR)


In the HR-based framework nothing is left implicit!


4. As HR activists try to convince states that their HR obligations mean something very immediate to SDG plans and processes, there is a difficult balance we have to strike between pragmatism and integrity. The inconvenient truth is that meaningfully aligning sustainable development practice with HR is not easy and, if it is, we are almost certainly doing it wrong. Our activism should be disturbing and challenging to those in power. Dismantling power hierarchies, systemic inequalities and structures of oppression are at the very heart of HR, laws and practice. That is exactly why it is so crucial for us to embark on this dismantling if we want to see the SDGs implementation become truly transformative decisively moving it away from the business-as-usual status that is so evident in repeated reports from the UN’s High Level Political Forum monitoring the SDGs’ implementation so far. (Kate Donald)


5. At the People’s Health Movement (PHM), we believe that the fallacy we need to uproot in the area of health is that programs now addressing the urgent needs of women and children implicitly address equality and HR issues. We believe that the SDGs operate too much on a ‘deficit filling approach’ to poverty and to preventable ill-health, malnutrition and premature deaths. The HR-based approach --too weakly prioritized in the SDGs and that PHM applies-- considers the latter three to be the result of social exclusion so that it explores the critical exclusionary mechanisms that have to be tackled --now!


6. At PHM, we are about placing concrete demands on duty bearers because, where someone has a right, someone has a duty. For us, there are no more ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘stakeholders’. Now, it is for claim holders to be mobilized to demand needed changes: Where is this found unequivocally in the SDGs? Our crystal ball tells us that inequalities will remain entrenched even if the SDGs are achieved by 2030. Yes, we need to make solemn declarations, but we have to add teeth to them!


7. Allow me to add some of my iron laws to the SDGs saga (adapted from Wim de Ceukelaire)

  • Thee SDGs suffer from donor over-influence, technical over-emphasis, inattention to action on social and economic inequalities, and a lack of systematic long-term financial commitments;
  • they perpetuate a focus on communicable diseases, encourage quick fix technical approaches and emphasize average outcomes across undifferentiated populations;
  • HR violations are the common link between all SDGs;
  • after 2030, we will have achieved nothing more than isolated islands of progress in a sea of remaining grievances and persisting HR violations.
  • SDGs need not only to be attained, but also sustained long term.


The SDGs can well be considered too little too late


-Let us ask: Are not the SDGs ‘new wine’ rehashed from earlier international goals that were not met?


8. The SDGs priorities were arbitrarily set …from outside, in the North, in practice ghettoizing the real development problems discussion. Real life is more complex than the SDGs slogans. Have you noticed that the promises of the countries rendered rich are not quantified? The obligations of those rendered poor are! Think of it: The Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 can more fittingly be called the People’s SDG for Health.


9. Do we need hearing aids for the deaf defenders of the post 2015 development agenda or do they rather need radical inner ear surgery? We are soon mid-term on the wrong footing. We are applying a humanitarian rather than a political agenda. What is meant is that ill-defined causes of human ills lead to ill-defined solutions. Take health: Health interventions are never politically neutral. It is not about healthier poverty! Social and economic exclusion continues to be the chief characteristic of national and the global economic system --and the SDGs just pay lip service to this. (David Sanders and David Werner)


Ah! and then there are PPPs and multistakeholder platforms all over the SDGs…


-Not to be overlooked: Earlier promoters of privatization have taken a step backward, only to take two more forward to, instead, promote public-private partnerships (PPPs). (Jomo Sundaram)

-I like the PPPs metaphor: Two brothers own one cow: one milks it the other feeds the cow.


10. We need clarity in the terminology used around PPPs and multistakeholderism --in particular the casual use of the word partnership --and to some extent-- the concept of private sector. This relates to the need to take proper safeguards against the inappropriate positioning of for-profit industries and philanthropies on governing bodies. (IBFAN)


11. Public policy must ensure that all PPPs and multi-stakeholder platforms are bindingly linked to the broader public interest including strong public institutions and a sound regulatory framework. Existing mechanisms, notably national HR institutions, have an important role in examining and assessing the progress (or not) made. They can take up matters with concerned authorities (duty bearers) as relates to the gaps, impediments and shortcomings and prevalent inequalities in the implementation of social services.


12. Governments are to be required to annually report on progress, as well as on shortcomings in the implementation of the SDGs including strategies to overcome these --PPPs achievements or non-achievements included. Marginalization and exclusion and the prevailing inequalities can be measured by quantitative indicators including budgetary allocations going where, as well as by the scale of investments in economic, social ad cultural rights (ESCR). As public figures, parliamentarians also have a crucial role in taking up the HR and SDGs cause as a high national priority. (Kyshore Sinh)


The point is: the agenda of corporations is to promote profit, not necessarily the public good


13. PPPs, multi-stakeholder platforms and other types of close relations particularly with TNCs are premised by the-you-know-who on a positive conception of Consensus, Compromise, and Collaboration.  But the “3 Cs” are not inherently good.  On the contrary, tension between punctilious regulators and corporations is ordinarily necessary to protect public health. And achieving common ground with industry may put off the table measures that actually address important public concern issues. The relationship between industry and government ought to be an arm’s length relationship not shying away from institutional tensions, ‘struggle’ and direct conflict, because the inherent tensions are not easily resolved. (Jonathan Marks)


14. PPPs and multistakeholder platforms do not change the nature of HR or the state obligations for any of the 17 SDGs. Never forget: The judicial system in a country has a forgotten essential role in protecting and enforcing these rights. Quasi-judicial mechanisms such as administrative tribunals, national human rights institutions, including ombudspersons, or HR commissions also have an important role in examining cases of violations by carrying out inquiries and investigations and recommending the adoption of appropriate measures to local, regional or national authorities. Such mechanisms are important for placing political and legal pressure upon the authorities responsible for implementing all SDGs. Voila the challenge…


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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