Why human rights matter for the Post-2015 Agenda

Stefan Wellauer

Human Rights Policy Office of the Human Security Division, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs

8 December 2014 - As the 10th of December, the internationally recognized «Human Rights Day» approaches, it is important to remember why human rights have to be a vital and important part of the Post-2015 development process.

Economic growth has many positive effects and is a centerpiece of global development. However, economic growth should not be considered the sole measurement of development. On the contrary, rather than an end in itself, economic growth should primarily be an instrument to achieve objectives such as the eradication of poverty, the elimination of social injustice, or the empowerment of the weakest and most marginalized parts of society. All communities must have means to challenge development justice to ensure that the progress of the many is not made at the expense of the few. Transparency, freedom of expression, access to justice and the right to information should be, amongst many others, pillars of a sustainable and just development agenda.

Why human rights?

Human rights principles such as equality, non-discrimination and participation can help to ensure that the above mentioned pillars become part of the Post-2015 Agenda and are taken into consideration on a global, national and local level. All countries around the world have voluntarily submitted themselves to certain human rights obligations by ratifying human rights treaties. These pre-existing human rights norms must be respected and reflected by the Post-2015 Agenda. Many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and human rights obligations overlap and intersect: access to education, water and health care, strengthening the rule of law and social justice or gender equality, just to name a few. While the final SDGs will be voluntary (and therefore legally non-binding) political commitments, the human rights treaties are legally binding. This means that the human rights commitments of states have the potential to strengthen the enforcement of the SDGs because of their international oversight mechanisms and their legal status.

Which human rights?

Civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association, access to political participation and information, and guarantees of an enabling environment for civil society and human rights defenders are essential for accountability and monitoring in every state and society. These rights ensure that powerful and political actors are held accountable for their actions. This does not only apply to the «daily routine» of a state but also to the implementation of its SDG commitments. Access to justice and political decision-making allow communities and civil society to fight discrimination and give a voice to marginalized stakeholders in a development context.

Economic, social and cultural rights must be respected and protected to ensure that the right to water, land and food (amongst others) are not violated, either by states or by international corporations. National economic programs, international aid or transnational development cannot be based on infringement of the basic human rights of individuals.

How should human rights be included?

The above mentioned reasons and benefits are why Switzerland actively advocates for the broad inclusion and application of human rights in the Post-2015 Agenda. A holistic human rights framework, or a so called human-rights based approach, should feature at the center of the SDGs. This means that human rights principles must be respected in the composition and implementation of every SDG and all their subordinate targets. Furthermore a human-rights based approach should also be applied to the monitoring, financing and accountability structures of the Post-2015 Agenda, to guarantee that states, politicians and other powerful actors will be answerable for their commitments. This in turn can help the Post-2015 Agenda to be truly beneficial to all.

The principle of human rights, with its aim of promoting and protecting human dignity must go hand in hand with global development and its objective of eradicating poverty, in order to make the Post-2015 Agenda an effective tool to improve the well-being of every individual around the world.