By Amanda Bransford
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15, 2010 (IPS) – As a major high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals approaches at U.N. headquarters in September, anti- poverty and human rights activists are stepping up efforts to have their voices heard.
Informal hearings are taking place Monday and Tuesday among the U.N. General Assembly, civil society organisations and the private sector, in hopes of gaining many different perspectives for the September plenary meeting, which will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs, drawn from the Millennium Declaration adopted by all U.N. member states in 2000, are a global initiative to address poverty.
They are specific and measurable goals to be achieved by 2015, focused on eliminating poverty and reducing child mortality, promoting primary education and gender equality, improving maternal health, combating disease, and ensuring environmental sustainability and global cooperation.
Monday, activists rallied outside the U.N. to demand faster progress on poverty reduction.
“We are working to try and push governments across the world meet their commitments to end extreme poverty by 2015,” said Rajiv Joshi of Global Call to Action Against Poverty, the event’s organiser.
Rally participants signed an open letter to U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon containing recommendations for enhancing the MDGs’ effectiveness.
Over 100 people were present, said Joshi, including prominent activists from around the world such as Nigerian poverty activist Dr. Tola Winjobi and Oxfam’s pan-African policy advisor, Irungu Houghton.
In further preparation for September’s Plenary Meeting, human rights leaders also met last Thursday for a conference at the Ford Foundation.
Hosted by Amnesty International and Realising Rights, the conference aimed for greater inclusion of human rights within strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“Human rights principles and approaches are vital in making more rapid and lasting progress on these critical development goals,” said Realising Rights president Mary Robinson.
Human rights and development are intimately related, noted conference participants, but reaching a development goal is not always sufficient to ensure human rights.
For example, a nation may meet its MDG objective of improving water access to slum dwellers, but if that water is not clean and drinkable, the people’s human right to a decent standard of living is not ensured.
Or, if overall child mortality is improved but inequality widens and those at the bottom of society continue to suffer high mortality rates, the human rights of those poorest people have not been met.
Focusing on the MDGs without regard to human rights can, as Richard Morgan of the United Nations Development Group MDG task force pointed out, lead to “a statistical victory and a moral failure”.
Robinson said that human rights principles could help address the weaknesses in the MDGs: their lack of national action plans or accountability measures and of language specifically addressing nondiscrimination and social inclusion for marginalised groups, access to justice, and full participation by all.
The conference brought together leaders from government, civil society, and U.N. agencies.
It would, said U.N. Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-hwa Kang, “start the discussion outside the system that we will be taking into the system”.
The event accompanied the release of two policy briefs on the MDGs by Realising Rights and a report on including human rights in the goals by Amnesty International.
Participants strategised policies to address areas where progress on the MDGs has been insufficient.
They emphasised the need to obtain disaggregated data – to break down national data by specific populations – to look at the progress of marginalised groups and not just overall progress.
Indigenous groups, for example, are often overlooked in nationwide data.
Gender equality also requires this process, said participants. Women’s labour is often unpaid and uncounted, affecting the reliability of national statistics on the MDGs.
Conference attendees stressed the need for inclusion of groups who have been discriminated against. The MDGs should require nations to address inequality, they said.
Economic growth may mask ongoing inequalities, and the inclusion and participation of all groups in society is necessary to ensure human rights. Countries must focus not just on the most readily addressed problems, but must address the needs of the most disadvantaged groups.
Finally, concluded the participants, all people must have access to a legal system and justice to end poverty.
MDG progress has been weakest in those countries with the weakest institutions, they said, and strengthening legal institutions allows those whose rights are violated to seek redress and to use the legal system as a strategy for change.
Amnesty International’s Colm Ã CuanachÃ¡in said that the conference had been successful in helping participants to develop a consistent message about the fundamentality of human rights principles in the MDGs, which they would take to the United Nations as well as to their other work.