Enshrining Human Rights, Justice and Security in the Post-2015 Development Goals

Date: Thursday, January 17, 2013

Speech given by John Hendra Assistant Secretary General, And Deputy Executive Director, Policy and Programme of UN Women at Wilton Park Symposium on Integrating Transitional Justice, Security and Development. 17 January 2013.

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Thank you Isobelle for your very kind introduction. Pablo, Sarah and all Participants,

Like Pablo, I would also like to thank the Governments of Norway and Switzerland for sponsoring this very important and timely symposium and for their leadership in moving this critical agenda forward.

I am very pleased to be here to discuss the post-2015 development agenda and how we can try to ensure that human rights and security are enshrined in any goals that are adopted. In short, I will focus briefly on how to try to ensure the post-2015 framework is rights-based, and then turn to how we can better integrate peace and security in the framework, in particular the gender dimensions of security, peace and justice.

However, before we look forward to the post-2015 agenda, I believe we must also look back and reflect briefly on the successes and, perhaps especially, the failures of the MDGs.

The MDGs have been very influential in shaping the development landscape. They have had great traction, receiving widespread political and financial support.  They helped galvanize action on many fronts – including gender equality and the empowerment of women.

They established a framework for joint action in some key areas – as well as for accountability often within and between countries. They are simple and straightforward to communicate. And they have been adopted, localized, and used as a measure of progress in many countries.

However, as we know, the MDGs have also been critiqued on a number of important grounds.  They do not fully reflect or balance the commitments and responsibilities of countries in the South and North.  While there was broad participation in the lead up to adoption of the Millennium Declaration, the process of developing the MDGs largely took place in a windowless room in the basement of the UN.

And critically, they do not fully integrate a human rights-based approach or properly address governance, inequalities, peace and security or environmental sustainability. Nor do the MDGs address at all violence against women and girls – one of the most serious human rights violations today.

In the decade or so since the MDGs were established, we have continued to see uneven ownership of the MDGs among developing countries; ongoing criticism by the human rights community and gender equality advocates among others; as well as a fundamental mismatch between progress towards the MDGs on the one hand and governance failures and serious inequalities in a number of countries on the other.

Just as one example, both Egypt and Tunisia, which were lauded as among the top eight countries in achieving progress towards the MDGs in 2010, a year later were in the midst of the “Arab Spring” which saw their previous regimes quickly toppled by citizens calling for justice, dignity, better jobs and more democratic governance.

Indeed, the focus by some governments on “easy wins” has arguably worsened inequalities as the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and hardest to reach groups have been left behind. Widening disparities in many countries across a number of MDG indicators are testament to this: the poorest quintile and ethnic minority groups have almost across the board seen significantly less progress across all MDGs than have better off populations.

What’s more, the world has changed significantly, bringing issues such as climate change and natural disasters, financial crises and chronic unemployment – all of which are drivers of fragility and insecurity – to the foreground.

If the post-2015 development agenda is to succeed then we must learn from the MDG experience, building on the strengths of the MDG framework and avoiding the pitfalls. This means we must tackle a fundamental question: “who is this development framework for”?

Is it to be just a technocratic tool for measuring progress, a set of targets and indictors for developing countries to report against and for donors to monitor as the basis for awarding funding – in other words, a kind of global RBM system for development?

Or is it to be a bold and ambitious agenda for the kind of future we want to see, for all people, in all countries, regardless of their development status; a framework that is aspirational and visionary on the one hand; and that explicitly addresses the barriers and constraints to freedom, dignity, and rights on the other?

I firmly believe it should be the latter.  I would submit that the huge interest we are seeing in the post-2015 process indicates an appetite not for “more of the same” but for a development agenda that is universal, addresses increasing inequality and aims at the full realization of human rights.

As the UN Task Team report “Realizing the Future We Want for All” states, this means ensuring that human rights, equality – including gender equality – and environmental sustainability are at the heart of the new development agenda.

So what would a post-2015 development framework with human rights at its center look like?  The following points are not new but I think they bear re-stating:

  • First, such a framework would recognize that realizing people’s rights, equality and human development – rather than a narrow focus on economic growth – is the hallmark of successful societies.
  • Second, it would be based on, and consistent with, existing human rights commitments adopted by the international community to address inequality and discrimination.  It would recognize and embed the obligations of States to protect, promote and realize people’s rights, including the responsibility to commit maximum available resources to ensure the progressive realization of rights, and avoid retrogressive measures. This is particularly important in the context of current fiscal constraints and widespread use of austerity measures.
  • Third, it would be transformative, seeking to change the structural impediments – unequal power relations, exclusion and multiple forms of discrimination – that perpetuate inequalities and disparities.  It would enshrine rule of law and access to justice in order to address the injustices of the past and ensure a freer and more equal future.
  • Fourth, it would recognize equality including gender equality as key to progress on development, human rights, sustainability and peace and would include a gender-specific goal, together with full integration of gender equality in all other goals, through gender-sensitive targets and indicators.
  • Fifth, it would assess progress for the very poorest and most disadvantaged by disaggregating targets and indicators by income, age, ethnicity, sex and disability, and would establish specific targets for vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.
  • Sixth, it would ensure voice and participation in the process of developing the framework and include the aspirations of the poorest and most vulnerable. It would deliver accountability and transparency by putting in place mechanisms to engage people and civil society at all levels to set priorities and monitor progress; and enabling them to hold decision-makers accountable.
  • Finally, and critically, it would be universal and applicable to all countries, including fragile, conflict-affected and post-conflict settings.

As we know, there are a number of tensions in the post-2015 debate.  These include how to ensure substantive convergence, and bring together all the main different strands – poverty eradication, peace and security, human rights, equality and environmental sustainability – into one coherent narrative, as well as how to develop and secure political support for a framework that is universal, which applies to all people and all countries regardless of their stage of development.

One of the biggest challenges we face in achieving a universal framework is how to best integrate the peace and security agenda. Clearly, we can’t realize human rights without ensuring fundamental freedoms, including freedom from fear and freedom from violence. Yet it is undoubtedly going to be very challenging to include the peace and security dimension and in particular to agree on targets and indicators to measure progress.

Much needed efforts are underway to think this through. A proposal to include “freedom from violence” through a personal security goal is on the table, formulated in the Bellagio goals for example as “security for ensuring freedom from violence”.  The advantage of such a goal is that it embodies the right to freedom from fear and violence and importantly offers an entry point to address violence against women in all its forms.

According to the 2011 Global Burden of Armed Violence report, around 560,000 people die violently each year, and about 396,000 of these deaths occur in countries that are neither fragile nor conflict affected. Based on this, discussions on a possible “personal security goal”, have suggested targets such as “eliminating lethal violence from every community by 2030”, together with indicators such as “changes in homicide per 100,000 per population”.

However this conception is, in my opinion, far too narrow to fully address “freedom from fear and violence” or to capture women and men’s different experiences of violence and insecurity.

As we know, violence against women and girls is a universal phenomenon, underpinned by gender inequality and structural discrimination. As we have recently seen in India and sadly in many other places, violence against women and girls, coupled with systemic failures of the police and justice system to punish perpetrators and offer redress to victims, continues to persist in all societies, and at all levels of development.

In short, there can be no real security and no lasting peace, when women and girls suffer the scourge of violence, without access to justice and redress – whether it is in India, the UK, the US, or the Congo. A post-2015 development agenda that truly enshrines human rights can only be achieved if ending violence against women and girls is central to that agenda.

Instead, a more broadly defined personal security goal would explicitly speak to the experience of the up to 70 percent of women who suffer violence at some point in their lives.  It would recognize and include violence wherever it occurs – in the public or the private sphere, in countries that are developing and developed, fragile and conflict-affected, post-conflict and “at peace”.

It would expand measures of personal security, such as the number of homicides, disaggregating them by age, sex and other socio-economic factors. It would include gender specific measure of personal security, such as sexual violence or intimate partner violence, diminution of rapes, together with other measures such as women’s perceptions of security at home and in public places.

However, even a broadly defined personal security goal would fall far short of fully integrating peace and security; in particular the constraints to development that result from conflict and fragility; access to justice and redress in post-conflict settings and full participation of all members of the community in the peace-building process, together with gender dimensions of peace and security.

As we know, violent conflict is perhaps the largest obstacle to achieving development, and peace and security are important preconditions for progress towards achieving development goals. 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by fragility, conflict or violence.

It’s no accident that none of the MDGs have been achieved in fragile or conflict-affected countries. Over the next 10-15 years the current concentration of poverty in middle-income countries will shift, to be replaced by an arc of poverty in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. 85 percent of the world’s poor are projected to live in fragile states by 2025.

What’s more, there’s a clear correlation between conflict and fragility and gender inequality.  Societies which are less equal and inclusive – in which gender disparities and discrimination are greater and more entrenched – are also more likely to experience violence, conflict, and fragility.

The very same fragile and conflict-affected countries that have been slowest to achieve the MDGs overall are those that lag furthest behind on the gender specific MDGs, MDG3 and MDG5.

In fully integrating peace and security in the post-2015 agenda it is critical that the gender dimensions be properly addressed. Gender inequalities that precede and contribute to fragility are further exacerbated during conflict.

Women are the majority of victims of displacement during and after conflict and the primary targets of specific forms of violence. Sexual violence is increasingly recognized as a tactic of conflict, with widespread impacts on individuals, families and communities.

The most striking example of this is the over 300 rapes – but not a single murder – in four days of conflict in the Walikale region of Eastern Kivu, DRC in July-August 2010. High rates of violence against women continue to persist in post-conflict contexts due to a culture of impunity and breakdown of rule of law.

What’s more, the exclusion of women from the peace process – the peace talks and design of the recovery process – only perpetuates and reinforces these gender inequalities, resulting in insufficient attention being paid to redressing gender inequalities and ensuring women’s security.

Just as women’s unequal access to property rights and economic opportunities, fragile livelihoods and lack of access to secure incomes undermines economic and community recovery, so does failure to prosecute crimes against women during and after war undermine efforts to rebuild the rule of law and re-establish trust of citizens in institutions and the state.

Lack of protection under the rule of law means women are unable to claim their rights, challenge the abuses committed against them, and remain trapped in the cycle of impunity, insecurity and exclusion from the development dividends offered by peace.

And this in turn undermines the peace process, entrenching the problems that contribute to conflict in the first place and making it more likely that the cycle of conflict and fragility will continue.

The cycle can be – and frankly must be – broken. When women are part of the peace-building process, and when transitional justice processes address the specific violations and abuses that women and girls experience in conflict, peace is more robust, and development more sustainable. What’s more, post-conflict processes can provide critical opportunities to break cycles of inequality and marginalization, and secure real gains for women and girls.

The earlier session highlighted the need to be practical: let me give one practical example. Timor Leste’s Truth Commission’s focus on community hearings and women’s participation led to reporting of violations that went well beyond a traditional focus on political and civil rights, to encompass widespread and systematic violations of socio-economic rights and their impact.

As we all look to 2015, the urgency of ensuring women’s role in peace-building and the importance of ensuring that transitional justice processes address women’s experience of conflict cannot be stressed strongly enough. Without attention to gender equality and realization of women’s rights, peace is less robust, recovery is slower, and conflict is more likely to recur.

While the full integration of peace and security remains conceptually and politically challenging, I believe it is critical that measures of women’s participation in peace-building and access to transitional justice are included in the post-2015 framework.

This could include, for example, measures such as women’s inclusion in peace processes, and the percentage of peace agreements that include a gender dimension; inclusion of women’s needs and priorities in post-conflict financing and planning; access to services, livelihoods and citizenship rights; and women’s representation in security, justice and foreign services.

Many of these measures are already included as indicators under Resolution 1325. Harmonizing and integrating this framework in the post-2015 agenda would then be a priority.

In sum then, it is critical that the post-2015 agenda really be rights-based.  Secondly, in order to fully enshrine human rights in the post-2015 framework issues of non-discrimination, inclusion, accountability and equality – including gender equality and women’s empowerment – must be fully integrated.

Thirdly, a personal security goal is critical to achieve this, especially to address ending violence against women, together with a gender equality goal, and full integration of gender equality across the framework. Fourthly, in fully integrating peace and security, it is critical that the gender dimensions of peace and security be full addressed via the kinds of gender sensitive measures and possible indicators I have outlined today.

It is undoubtedly going to be challenging to secure agreement to a personal security goal, however broadly defined, and even more challenging to fully integrate the peace and security agenda.  But if the MDGs have taught us anything, it’s that we must integrate these issues explicitly.

Human rights, freedom from fear and violence, and gender equality will not be realized as a by-product of the post-2015 agenda if that agenda focuses narrowly and exclusively on extreme poverty in developing countries, or merely re-tweaks the existing MDGs by adding a few new goals and indicators to create “MDGs plus”.

We must continue to advocate for a post-2015 agenda that explicitly prioritizes and fully integrates human rights, equality including gender equality, peace and security, and justice. Otherwise, we can expect to be having this same discussion again in another 18 years – most probably in a much more fragile and unequal world.

I very much look forward to discussing these issues with you over the next three days.

Thank you.