Sustainable Development: The States must direct world governance to a turning point

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(New-York) From 25 to 27 September 2015, the United Nations is holding a Summit for the adoption of a new sustainable development agenda, running till 2030. This Programme will contain goals, which will be more precise, more ambitious and closer to the individual persons and peoples than the Millennium Development Goals.

In a position paper made public today, the FIDH welcomes the progress made but has doubts about the ability of the States to implement these commitments, especially at a time when States – especially the poorest States – are losing their ability to regulate in favour of a fair and inclusive development at a national level or to rectify harmful policies of transnational players.

The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) follow the universal obligations of the States in respect of human rights, while including them at the heart of development policies and reasserting that these rights are universal, indivisible and must be applied without discrimination. Ensuring the right of each person to access to justice to proclaim his or her rights becomes a priority, a significant choice in a world where attacks against persons who stand up for their rights is becoming more commonplace and where recourse mechanisms against human rights violations by business enterprises are few and largely unable to be reached.

"On every continent, those who defend their communities in the face of so-called “development projects” are attacked, murdered with impunity. Access to justice is - in most cases - an illusion for the victims. It is therefore essential that the right of everyone to access to justice be a priority of the SDGs"
Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

Despite this basis, a lot of the main stakes and obstacles to achieve respect for human rights in matters of development are either avoided or evaded. Indeed, although the States still bear the main responsibility for human development policies, many of them are not able to regulate in favour of human development at a national level, or to correct the harmful policies of transnational actors.

The Programme does not deal with these aspects:

  • The goals merely promote the present multilateral free trade system, without addressing the adverse effects of free trade agreements on human rights , notably through international trade arbitration structures;
  • The role of business enterprises in human development is mentioned, but on an essentially positive note, without taking into account the human rights violations they might be responsible of, nor adressing the risks entailed by the increasing role of the private sector in the provision of public services. Nowhere does the document call on States to legislate in order to regulate their behaviour, and even less does it point towards their accountability to independent courts in the case of abuse of rights.
  • Finally, the international community has refused to support the creation of a United Nations Agency, which would supervise the international cooperation in taxation matters, and which would have allowed to stop illegal financial flows and to fight against corporate tax evasion. However today, developing countries are losing their capacity to invest in order to achieve economic, social and cultural rights, in particular to guarantee free, quality education and health care for all.

The Sustainable Development Goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were adopted almost 15 years ago and which contributed to reducing poverty around the world, reinforcing access to education, as well as improving healthcare and access to water. Nevertheless, because there was no clear link between the MDGs and the respect of human rights, the international community had been deprived of an essential compass to understand the causes of poverty. As the United Nations Development Programme indicates, inequalities have become worse between countries and among people within countries.

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