CESR responds to High-Level Panel questionnaire on the post-2015 development agenda.

January 11th, 2013

As part of its ongoing applied research and advocacy for a more human rights-centered successor framework to the MDGs, CESR responded to a request from the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda to provide guidance on its framing questions in advance of the High Level Panel’s meeting in Monrovia, Liberia from 28-30 January 2013. Our brief responses follow.

A1 From the Millennium Development Goals, what lessons can be learned about designing goals to have maximum impact?

A key lesson from the development triumphs and tribulations of the last decade is that any new development agenda must be more than just an accord between rich and poor governments, with little ownership or transformative potential by people living in poverty themselves. International commitments on their own can support, but will never take the place of, effective national and sub-national processes which compel change. A post-2015 sustainable development agenda based on human rights and equality must be understood as an indispensable contract between people as human rights-holders, and public and private actors as corresponding duty-bearers—a pact between people and decision-makers which can be practically employed by the poor and marginalized to transform aspirational commitments into real improvements in living conditions.
The impact of the goals will depend ultimately on the degree to which they serve as an effective instrument of accountability—for all actors. Goals can have an impact if they provide an incentive to all relevant actors to comply with the commitments made, and if costs are attached to not doing so. Their impact also depends on the legitimacy of the goals – i.e. they must be seen to impose equally enforceable commitments on countries of the North and South, and on influential non-state and supra-state actors as well as national and local governments.

A2 How should a new framework address the dimensions of economic growth, equity, social equality and environmental sustainability? Is an overall focus on poverty eradication sufficiently broad to capture the range of sustainable development issues?

The post-2015 framework should reflect a comprehensive and integrated vision of sustainable human development that recognizes as its ultimate goal the full realization of the human rights—civil, political, economic, social and cultural—of all members of the human family.  A focus on poverty eradication should remain at the core of the development agenda, but as UN human rights bodies have stressed, poverty must be understood and addressed as a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2001).

A3 What elements should be included in the architecture of the next framework? What is the role of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a broader post-2015 framework? How can the SDG process be aligned with the post-2015 process?

All goals should be founded upon pre-existing international human rights commitments. Goals, targets and benchmarks must reflect core principles of economic and social rights (such as non-discrimination and equality, right to information, access to justice, progressive realization according to maximum available resources, respect for minimum core obligations or a universal social protection floor, international cooperation and assistance). While the post-2015 cannot embrace all issues, recent experience in countries of the Middle East and North Africa has shown the danger of leaving civil and political rights out of the development equation. Also, the increase in poverty and inequality in industrialized countries in the wake of the economic crisis has shown the need for a universal approach to development and poverty-eradication, as well as the need for the new framework to address the structural causes of poverty and economic volatility.

It is essential that the SDG and post-2015 be fully aligned, and that these also converge with renewed commitments made in the context of the 20th anniversaries of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, of direct relevance to the sustainable development agenda, as well as other relevant commitments such as those contained in the Monterrey Consensus.

A4 Mindful that poor and vulnerable people may not have the capacity to participate directly in an online consultation, the following question that the Panel is considering is also posed for individuals and civil society organizations who engage with these constituencies directly and regularly: "What issues do poor and vulnerable people themselves prioritize?"

In CESR´s experience, many individuals and communities most directly affected by poverty and deprivation see the eradication of poverty as a matter of justice and human rights. In their experience they see no distinction between types or categories of deprivation and disparity, as lack of access to health, education and housing often goes hand in hand with risks to their physical security and intense forms of discrimination. As confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, people living in poverty face daily stigmas, penalization, and often retributions when they attempt to organize to exercise their rights. Further, in our experience, poor and vulnerable people have very scarce time, resources and energy to engage in dialogues on their government’s international commitments. They require continuous and institutional support to meaningfully participate and monitor their government’s conduct, and they also need proof that engaging will result in transforming the unequal power relations which keep them poor.

A5 How should a new framework address resilience to crises?

Pervasive financial fissures continue to compound pre-existing food, fuel and ecological crises, leaving the current MDG framework increasingly ill-equipped to address the deep governance challenges of a multi-polar, interdependent and ever-more volatile world. One of the clearest lessons of the last few years is the need for the post-2015 development framework to address the root causes of these crises which have created fundamental obstacles to achieving sustainable development goals in all countries. Three key issues for inclusion in the new framework to prevent instability and volatility in development are: the need for more effective and transparent financial regulation, both domestically and globally; the reform of tax systems and policies at the national and international levels to ensure more resources are generated and allocated fairly for the purpose of development and human rights fulfilment; and more truly equitable mechanisms of global economic governance, especially in the trade, debt, monetary and finance sectors.

Given current consensus on the overwhelming need for a universal social protection floor, a Global Fund for Social Protection, as proposed by human rights experts, is an appealing mechanism for sustainably and cooperatively financing social protection for all in a climate of increased funding volatility in this critical area.

A6 How should a new framework reflect the particular challenges of the poor living in conflict and post-conflict settings?

Disparity and deprivation are often the core causes of conflict. Experience has shown however that the protection and enforcement of economic and social rights has frequently been overlooked and neglected in situations of conflict and post-conflict. Transitional processes in many countries have been undermined due to the failure to constitutionalize economic and social rights protections, to include redress for economic and social rights violations in peace agreements or to build institutional infrastructure to guarantee these rights in practice. Any new conflict-related goal in the new framework should recognize this blind spot.

A 7 How can we universalize goals and targets while being consistent with national priorities and targets?

This time around, the framework must apply universally in rich and poor countries alike, being tailored and adaptable to different national and sub-national circumstances, but in service to and owned by poor and marginalized people anywhere and everywhere. While universal in application, the framework’s specific targets and metrics may vary take into account different national realities and resource constraints (as long as human rights standards are not undercut in doing so). Under some goals, differentiated responsibilities may be identified for developing and industrialized countries, and for other relevant non-state or supra-state actors.  One way of ensuring universally-applicable assessment of progress is to measure rates of progress and backsliding towards an agreed goal, as well as the policy efforts (within sectors, but also budget and fiscal policies) taken to reach such goals, something that was not taken into account in the current MDGs framework.

A 8 What time horizon should we set for the next phase in the global development agenda (e.g. 10, 15, 25 years, or a combination)?

There is a need to balance long-term vision for genuinely transformative change with short-term, interim targets at the national and global levels to drive continuous political incentives and accountability. Periodic re-assessments of targets and indicators (with full, consequential civil society involvement) should be also established to allow for course correction and adaptation in rapidly changing times.

B 1 How can a new framework tackle the challenges of coherence and coordination among the organizations, processes, and new mechanisms that address issues that are global in scope?

A sustainable development agenda founded on what works must include a sober assessment of the external obstacles which hinder countries in mobilizing and investing resources in rights-realizing ways. Government laws and policies which have the effect of preventing other countries from resourcing development in equitable ways (e.g. supporting cross-border tax evasion, improper regulation of abusive private financial actors, private creditors or other business enterprises, aid or trade conditionalities, and unjustifiable constraints on deficit financing.), for example, clearly work against the achievement of common development goals, and must therefore be given a central place in monitoring practice against commitments.

As universally recognized norms and bottom-line standards of conduct, international human rights standards and operational principles offer a unique yardstick with which to evaluate legal and policy coherence at both global and national levels to ensure all countries and all sectors—be they social, economic, financial, justice, environmental or others—work in complementarity to uphold governments’ respective responsibilities. In systematically assessing policy coherence and responsibilities beyond their borders, states should be required to conduct periodic assessments of the human rights risks of their laws, policies and practices outside their borders,, with reviews being channeled into future development monitoring, oversight and accountability mechanisms. This should include independent assessments of the degree to which laws or policies on trade, debt, tax, corporate accountability, fiscal, monetary, environmental and investment matters effectively sustain or undermine the achievement of future goals.

B 2 How can we build and sustain global consensus for a new framework, involving Member States, the private sector and civil society?

To build consensus between states, the post-2015 framework should not be understood as a “new” framework, in fact. Instead, it should be envisioned as a “renewed” framework, which begins by re-confirming pre-existing development commitments and legal obligations growing out from over five decades of human rights and environmental law.

As a universally-recognized, action-oriented normative framework, human rights already sets out measurable standards of conduct and operational principles which in turn delineate what governments and other duty-bearers are responsible for, evaluating their conduct, and incentivizing continual and participatory reassessment of processes and outcomes in order to reach agreed targets. Consensus already exists in this sense that human rights imply legal obligations of governments—as primary duty-bearers—to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. As part of their duty to protect, governments must ensure at the very least that non-state actors—in particular businesses—avoid harming people and the planet. Mandatory human rights due diligence requirements for the private sector (especially multi-national and large businesses, including financial companies) are essential to assess and prevent any foreseeable adverse impacts on human rights and the environment. The private sector’s role in the post-2015 agenda is critical, and to win trust of governments and civil society, it must start by expressly committing within the framework to avoid doing harm to human rights and the environment, with associated independent monitoring mechanisms established.

B 3 How specific should the Panel be with recommendations on means of implementation, including development assistance, finance, technology, capacity building, trade and other actions?

As mentioned in our response to question B1, the framework can nudge governments to set clear, measurable targets on the means of implementation of the framework, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It is critical to overcome the weakness of previous commitments in this regard, especially under MDG 8, which failed to link commitments with measureable targets, creating a system of double-standards which placed obligations mainly on low-income countries, without adequately recognizing the responsibilities all countries and all actors have through their influence over the development process, both at home and abroad. Lessons can be drawn from the High-Level Task Force on the Implementation of the Right to Development regarding ways to draw up effective and monitorable indicators illustrating the degree to which governments’ laws, policies and programs (from trade, aid, debt, finance, taxation, monetary policy, etc.) respect, protect and support the fulfillment of human rights in other countries.

B 4 How can accountability mechanisms be strengthened? What kind of monitoring process should be established? What elements would make it effective? How to account for qualitative progress?

Accountability mechanisms in line with human rights standards help to foster conditions in which people can meaningfully participate in decision-making processes, compelling those who exercise authority to answer to and take account of the deep concerns and legitimate demands of marginalized groups in society. Human rights accountability also affords those who claim to have been deprived of their rights access to transparent and effective mechanisms to enforce their claim against those in authority, and to obtain effective remedy if their rights have been put in jeopardy. Courts, parliamentary and independent oversight bodies, administrative bodies and social accountability mechanisms at the national level—reinforced by international accountability mechanisms such as human rights treaty bodies—have been shown to save lives and support livelihoods by placing the onus on officials to demonstrate having delivered on their development commitments. 350,000 additional girls are now going to school in India, for example, as a result of the midday school meal scheme required by the Indian Supreme Court’s decision on a string of right to food legal cases. (Varun Guari & Daniel Brinks eds, Courting Social Justice).

A post-2015 development agenda buttressed by human rights accountability will help to clarify respective responsibilities, improve answerability to rights-holders, and strengthen robust incentives for sustaining progress and preventing backsliding. The post-2015 development agenda is well-placed to stimulate effective, interactive accountability systems at all levels and through all stages of the policy cycle so that decision-makers are supported and compelled to justify their policy choices and resource allocations. One effective way of achieving this would be to ensure more constructive interaction between the existing human rights accountability mechanisms (at the national and international level) and the post-2015 monitoring, review and accountability infrastructure, recognizing the web of interaction between them and ensuring that these can provide effective remedies to those deprived of their rights through the non-fulfillment of development commitments.

Further lessons in designing an accountable development framework which holds all stakeholders to account can be drawn from the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, an innovative effort to accelerate progress on MDG 4 and 5 through improved monitoring, review and accountability for results.

B 5 How can transparency and more inclusive global governance be used to facilitate achievement of the development agenda?

At its heart, transparent, effective, equitable, participatory, rule-bound and accountable governance is about ensuring that those invested with authority remain responsive to the suffering of the most vulnerable over time, and that they justify their exercise of power on human rights grounds. Just governance of this nature can help foster trust in institutions and provide a platform to forge shared solutions to long-standing national and global-level collective action problems, held in place by various inter-active and multi-dimensional forms of accountability.

For more information, please contact:
Luke Holland, CESR, New York, lholland@cesr.org
Nicholas Lusiani, CESR, New York, nlusiani@cesr.org