I’ve been reading the UN documents on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the last few days, trying to understand this next global development framework for 2015 to 2030. I’ve also been searching for human rights references. I will continue this search as I have not yet found any direct mention, and only two references from earlier UN meetings on the environment and sustainable development. Perhaps I have missed something — hours of reading UN-speak blurs the eyes and muddles the brain. Yet if human rights are actually there, it’s not obvious or clear.
In the almost seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we have heard thousands of noble pronouncements about how the the UN agencies are rooted in Human Rights, and lately, in what is called the ‘Human Rights Based Approach‘. We have seen stacks of UN papers and publications about many aspects of Human Rights, including hundreds of cases dealt with by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights covering many issues that the SDGs hope to address.
Explicit links to our fundamental human rights would make the SDGs into levers for change, well-grounded in international treaties and conventions. The absence of HR removes a key tool for the advocacy that is required if any of these lofty goals will be met over the next 15 years. So to not find any mention of human rights is both a failure of the UN, and a lost opportunity for those in need of ‘sustainable development’.