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This panel considered the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) nexus of human rights and development. Facilitator Siobhan McInerney-Lankford (World Bank Speakers) set forth six key questions: In the post-2015 development road mapping, what role do human rights measures (standards and principles) play in fragile states struggling with armed conflict(s)?
Jan Wouters (University of Leuven) explained that Goal 16’s call for peaceful and inclusive societies involves public participation, access to justice, and non-discrimination as core means and ends. He pointed out that it is worth noting that the predecessor Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not include an inclusive decision-making process in their creation. He further set the stage by pointing out that from the 1990s on there was an effort to target “failed” states as a means of addressing terrorism. More recent efforts have involved including “failed” states in broad public health initiatives and basic administrative efforts. Concluding that effective access to justice is the critical preliminary goal to all other positive objectives of effective governance, he emphasized the need to work towards strong stable legal institutions and the rule of law. Rule of law should be the first priority since all else depends on it, requiring accountability measures that hold leaders accountable for human rights violations to break cycles of state sanctioned violence. With regard to strengthening sustainable development goals, he offered the political declaration as an area in which work could still be accomplished.
Ralph Wilde (University College London) assessed the Maastricht Principles, challenging the interpretation of global dynamics as one of charity rather than responsibility to equitably share resources. He argued for human rights centered metrics rather than minor improvements at the margins as good will measures without recognition of colonial legacies and overarching inequity. He recognized that broader changes were occurring beyond the human rights context that may be progressive and also considered that law's capacity to emancipate people can only go so far. Overall, he called for codifying cross-boarder economic, cultural, social resources in a manner coherent with human rights generally and extraterritorial obligations to close equity gaps in particular.
Andrew Clapham (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies - Geneva) called for improving SDGs by genuinely recognizing and facilitating freedom of expression, association, and assembly. He took issue with the truncating of rights in the SDGs and insisted that the “best is enemy of good” is wrong-headed and can distort human rights commitments. Rather, the best is friend of the good - just better. Some things are worse than doing nothing. Reducing human rights is not an acceptable means of advancing development. Instead, it is one step forward - two steps backwards. Eroding international commitments have muddied the waters of identifying foreign aid, resource sharing, and human rights protections. Going forward, sustainable development should raise the bar not lower it.
Dapo Akande (Oxford University) addressed the role of human rights law for civilians in times of armed conflict. He noted that state consent is increasingly being weighted against considerations of individual human rights. Human rights law still applies in context of armed conflict and can inform the definition of “what is arbitrary.” The meaning of the legal term arbitrary has been analyzed in a range of human rights contexts. These can be considered in determining whether a state has arbitrarily withheld consent for humanitarian assistance for its suffering population of individuals with non-dirigible rights to basic human rights such as life. Benchmarks exist in human rights laws that do not disappear during armed conflicts. There is a danger in labeling countries “failed” states rather than states in conflict. It is important to parse out when humanitarian assistance is “arbitrarily” withheld. Policy coherence can level up or level down. Human Rights Law can help raise the threshold of human dignity and security.
The Q&A discussion centered on how the challenge that development and human rights communities seem to be ships passing in the night rather than coordinated members of the international community able to find shared vision and direct resources in synergistic sustainable directions. Progressive development of international law and development assistance could best be advanced by collectively seeking human security and individually seeking dignity. Together this human dignity and security would provide a human rights and development framework with which to assist suffering individuals and struggling fragile states emerge from conflict with integrity.
While perspectives varied regarding sustainability, taxonomy across SDG goals and targets and the degree to which human rights measures were overly truncated (e.g. child torture rather than torture generally). Overall there was consensus that procedural rights to access to justice were core to effective governance.
Elizabeth Burleson writes reports for the UN and presents on treaty making for the UN Office of Legal Affairs / UNITAR, having participated in the drafting process for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Agenda 21, and the Rio Declaration. She is an expert contributor to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).