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Unfortunately, whenever civil society and government strike discussions on human rights a certain unease sets in. The mood quickly dampens. On one hand, government mounts a defensive posture and on the other, civil society embarks on an offensive strategy. This gets worse when you throw in the word taxation. Like a spark to an inflammable concoction, you have the perfect recipe for an explosive discussion.

The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) comprises a number of goals which concern the internal situation in Germany. Among these are goals which derive from the human rights obligations, such as in the areas of education, health and social security. Examples include reducing the proportion of poor people in Germany by half and increasing the proportion of young people who complete secondary education.

Other goals address the external effects of German politics and economy. They demand domestic measures which also have immediate impacts for people in the countries of the South. These include goals for reducing resource use, for changing unsustainable consumption and production patterns, but also for the relationship to migrants and refugees.

Photo: Google

In Azerbaijan reduced budget revenues and cuts in government spending are the result of the decline in crude oil prices, the main export of the country. The Social Watch coalition in Azerbaijan examines how these constraints can also hamper the financing of sustainable development initiatives. As crude oil prices have tumbled, a worsening of the country’s fiscal balance could gradually lead to an increase in the public debt burden and threaten fiscal sustainability in the long term. Azerbaijan’s sovereign wealth fund, SOFAZ, now has very limited profits from the sale of oil, and will contribute less to the fiscal revenues of the state as a consequence. The national state-owned oil-gas company, SOCAR, temporarily cancelled its plans for a new oil-gas refining and petrochemical complex because of the rapid fall in crude oil prices. However, at the same time, the new low oil price environment also offers an opportunity to boost a new wave of fiscal and public administration reforms in Azerbaijan.

The Fed Up campaign reached new heights last month when 120 community leaders and organizers from around the country sat down with ten of the Federal Reserve’s Presidents and Governors for an unprecedented on-the-record conversation about monetary policy and Fed governance in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Workers and community leaders from mostly Black and Latino communities in all twelve of the Federal Reserve’s regional districts left their homes and families to travel to Jackson Hole to tell the Fed that the economy is still not working for their communities. They all belonged to the Fed Up campaign, a coalition of labor unions and community groups that came together two years ago to advocate for a more democratized Federal Reserve.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) should mainstream human rights into all of its activities and issue directives to the dispute settlement panels so that human rights treaty violations are not adversely affected.

This is one of the main recommendations highlighted by the UN Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Mr Alfred de Zayas (United States), in his report to the Human Rights Council, which is currently holding its regular thirty-third session in Geneva.

"It is high time to mainstream human rights into all trade agreements and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules and regulations, so that trade representatives and dispute-settlers know that trade is neither a ‘stand-alone' regime nor an end in itself," the rights expert said in presenting his report to the Council on Tuesday (13 September).

Due to the lasting impact of the international financial crisis and resulting increase in poverty and insecurity, and especially due to the Government’s extensive austerity policies, Italy faces challenges in many of the areas addressed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goal.
Moreover, the political context is critical, the result of three changes of Government without elections, in which the executive power has taken decisive initiatives for reform in many fields, including constitutional reforms, resulting in a progressive worsening of the gap between the political action of the "palace" and the daily exercise of citizen democratic participation.

Even in the one area that has seen a positive trend in recent years, namely, the development of renewable energy, there has been a reversal of the virtuous cycle since 2015. In the absence of a national energy plan, government policies continue to encourage fossil fuels (despite popular opposition), and large infrastructural works with new rules to eliminate environmental controls (introduced through the Stability Law in 2016) and with an increase in soil depletion.

Photo: UNHCR/S. Malkawi

Several challenges hinder the implementation of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development in Lebanon. During the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in September 2014 Lebanese President Tammam Salam identified the humanitarian issues caused by the Syrian refugee crisis as one of the greatest challenges to development. It is indeed a significant constraint; yet, one should note that Lebanon was facing a political and socio-economic crisis reflected by a high rate of unemployment and marginalized people, even before the Syrian crisis and the flood of refugees. Therefore, it is worth highlighting that the Syrian war shed light on the structural and systemic problems of Lebanon and aggravated them.

To date, Lebanon does not have a national strategy for sustainable development nor a national economic plan nor a poverty reduction strategy. According to the 2014 International Parliamentary Union Secretary General’s annual report: “the Lebanese Parliament reported that the Sustainable Development Initiative was in the agenda of the Public Work Committee between 2009-2010 period. The current political instabilities, however, forced the Parliament to shift its priorities.” The same report indicates that the Parliament has not been informed of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and has not taken any steps to discuss them. 

Inequality’s unrelenting rise has been the subject of growing attention that has come, in the last few years, from unexpected quarters. As a recent example, an article appeared on the IMF’s Finance & Development journal, “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” put the spotlight on the negative effects that inequality has on the level and sustainability of growth. The article generated not only wide press coverage, but also a number of responses. Almost in sync with the article, the IMF felt the need to publish an interview with its Chief Economist, Mr. Maurice Obstfeld, clarifying that the policy rethink at the IMF did not represent revolution, but evolution. Needless to say, to many analysts who had closely followed IMF policies for years, the clarification was entirely unnecessary. In fact, critics were quick to comment that the article was only a mild departure from IMF doctrine, not reflected in actual IMF programs, and even reasserted points that continue to be the focus of contention such as the positive growth effects of trade liberalization, privatization and foreign direct investment. Nonetheless the article, reflected wider concern with inequality at an institution that until not long ago considered it an afterthought.

Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) held a seminar to discuss issues related to Business and Human Rights in the context of the Pilot Project for the Promotion of Social Dialogue in the Southern Mediterranean Region. 

In the context of the Pilot Project for the Promotion of Social Dialogue in the Southern Mediterranean Region (SOLiD), in partnership with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and BUSINESSMED, ANND held a two day seminar in Beirut on 7 and 8 September 2016, to discuss issues related to Business and Human Rights.

Roberto Bissio, Social Watch Coordinator, joined the workshop participating in Session 1, The privet Sector and the New Development Paradigm - A Rights Based Perspective, Financing for Development from a Rights Based Approach (see his intervention below).

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