Rio2012: UN experts call on governments to link human rights to development

Session of the Human Rights
Council, Palais des Nations,
Geneva. (UN Photo/JeanMarc Ferre)

Twenty-two independent experts and special rapporteurs of the United Nations Human Rights Council called on the states to incorporate universally agreed international human rights norms and standards with strong accountability mechanisms into the goals to be agreed at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio2012) to be held in June. The appeal coincides with long-standing proposals made by civil society organizations.

The petition includes the setting of “indicators and measures to evaluate implementation of the commitments” to be agreed in Rio de Janeiro “through an inclusive, transparent and participatory process with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society”, wrote the experts in an open letter.

They also proposed the creation of “a Sustainable Development Council”, similar to the UN Human Rights Council, “to monitor progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by 2015”.

These prominent and independent experts, appointed by the Human Rights Council to address thematic issues around the world, warned that “global goals are easily set, but seldom met”. “A real risk exists that commitments made in Rio will remain empty promises without effective monitoring and accountability,” they stressed few weeks before the conference starts.

Rio2012 is expected to lay the foundations for a set of global Sustainable Development Goals to complement and strengthen the UN Millennium Development Goals agreed by chiefs of State and Government in 2000 in the same Brazilian city.

“Learning from the mistakes of the Millennium Development Goals, the new sustainable goals must integrate the full range of human rights linked with sustainable development, and human rights must be the benchmark for whether or not inclusive, equitable and sustainable development is occurring,” the independent experts wrote.

Twenty years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and ten after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the mounting effects of climate change and environmental degradation have raised the stakes further, according to the open letter. Both the Goals and the means of reviewing progress must be based on human rights from the start, it suggests.

“Human rights have guided sixty-plus years of progress by providing a legal baseline for political actions,” the experts said. “Human rights must now be the glue in Rio: they must bind countries to the commitments they make. States have an opportunity in Rio to create the transformative changes needed or else fare no better than in previous global attempts in this regard.” 

The conference “should ground global commitments in human rights. It should enable citizens to monitor the commitments of their governments. And it should put accountability, the foundation of a human rights-based approach to development, at the core of its commitments,” the experts wrote. “It is urgent to shift our development paths, because progress on sustainable development has been too slow and too modest,” they added, agreeing with several civil society’s diagnosis, including consecutives Social Watch Reports, the last one issued in December 2011.

The experts suggested that Rio2012 could establish an international accountability mechanism similar to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which subjects each country’s human rights record to a State-led peer review on the basis of information submitted by the country concerned, UN entities, civil society and other stakeholders.

At the national level, governments should establish their own national accountability mechanisms, including independent monitoring and civil society participation, in order to evaluate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

This double accountability mechanism would help to ensure that these goals are more enforceable than previous international ones, and to enable the full realization of human rights, including the right to development. Human rights mean prioritizing the most marginalized and vulnerable in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. It means that action can be corrected when progress is uneven or is achieved at the expense of certain groups. The fulfillment of human rights is the litmus test for whether or not sustainable development is occurring.

“Science tells us that we are reaching a set of environmental tipping points. We must therefore make Rio+20 the political tipping point. Our futures and planet are at stake, and we have three months to shape the ideas and political consensus that this huge task requires.”

The authors of the proposal are the following experts:

■ Olivier De Schutter (special rapporteur on the right to food),

■ Catarina de Alburquerque (special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation),  

■ Chaloka Beyani (special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons),

■ François Crépeau (special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants),

■ Virginia Dandan (independent expert on human rights and international solidarity),

■ Calin Georgescu (special rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes),

■ Anand Grover (special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health),

■ Rita Izsak (independent expert on minority issues),

■ Maina Kiai (special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association),

■ Frank La Rue (special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression),

■ Cephas Lumina (independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights),

■ Rashida Manjoo (special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences),

■ Raquel Rolnik (special rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context),

■ Magdalena Sepúlveda (special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights),

■ Margaret Sekaggya (special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders),

■ Farida Shaheed (independent expert in the field of cultural rights),

■ Kishore Singh (special rapporteur on the right to education),

■ Kamala Chandrakirana (chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice),

■ Margaret Jungk (chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises),

■ Gulnara Shahinian (special rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences),

■ Najat Maalla M'jid (special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography),

■ James Anaya (special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples),

More information
Open Letter from Special Procedures mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council to States:

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: