GIVEN THE STRONG RESISTANCE BY STATES TO ANY TRUE ACCOUNTABILITY MECHANISMS IN AGENDA 2030, WILL THE SDGs LEAD TO STATES AIMING TO ACHIEVE ‘HUMAN-RIGHTS-DEVOID-OF-MEANING’ INDICATORS?

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Human rights: Food for a thought devoid of meaning

 

Human Rights Reader 426
 

We cannot create the impression that the SDGs are a normative rather than a political framework. The SDGs are a political compromise, one that many-of-those-who-should do not fully support. (Simone Lovera)

 

What happens when indicators are linked to goals that are not centered on human rights?  

 

  1. A goal is a desired aim or ambition. Goals can be achieved as part of a human rights-based approach, but not vice-versa. Human rights (HR) are inalienable rights that we have by virtue of being equal and innately having dignity. Take the example of the right to food and adequate nutrition: A rights-based approach represents a longer-term and structural approach to addressing food insecurity and malnutrition that expects states to pass legislation and adopt national policies. These are to ensure recourse mechanisms are made available to hold the state accountable to progressively realize this right (meaning that it ensures a continual and growing commitment to addressing the realization of this right).

 

  1. One possible implication of the SDGs having chosen to shift from rights to goals, is that a different set of actors are emboldened and empowered under each approach. The SDGs call on a variety of actors, including the private sector, to participate in reaching set targets. This is not necessarily a bad thing —but, in our example, increased corporate consolidation in the food supply chain and increased corporate capture of food governance fora are indeed worrisome trends. They are worrying because corporate interests are not necessarily aligned with the public good: Indeed, corporations (unlike states) are not accountable to claim holders; they are accountable to their shareholders. In contrast, the human rights-based approach makes states the primary duty bearers.

 

  1. This begs a few questions

 

  • Will states pass responsibility off onto non-state actors as the Agenda 2030 becomes the main frame of action?
  • Will states be willing to compromise on social protection schemes or environmental protection when they frame their commitments to food security only through the lens of the SDGs and not the right to food and adequate nutrition lens?
  • Will states use the SDGs to deflect from their obligations under international HR law to approach hunger from a broad systemic, social determinants-based approach?

 

  1. All of this is very possible. The human rights framework places the focus on systemic change, one that can indeed result in qualitative changes to achieve desired outcomes, rather than focusing just on quantitative outcomes as measured by most of the SDG-proposed indicators. (Nadia Lambek, Jessica Duncan)

 

…and a few more questions about accountability*

 

  1. What does accountability really entail?
  • Name and shame?
  • Fire or replace somebody for inefficiency or corruption?
  • Tax the for ever under-taxed?
  • Kick out exploitative TNCs?
  • Preempt free trade agreements that have a negative impact on HR?
  • Regulate and legislate along the lines of HR imperatives and needs?
  • Bring-in users (claim holders) to the decision-making process?
  • Demand the drawing of participatory budgets?
  • Give public interest civil society organizations the watchdog function on the violations of HR?
  • All of the above? (probably, depending on context…).

*: There are five types of accountability, namely:

  • Judicial accountability: e.g., judicial review by domestic and international courts; constitutional redress; public interest litigation.
  • Quasi-judicial accountability: e.g., hospital complaint boards; national HR institutions, national ombudsmen; regional and international treaty bodies.
  • Administrative accountability: e.g., HR impact assessments by a governmental or independent body.
  • Political accountability: e.g., parliamentary committee review of budgetary allocations; health councils and committees, and
  • Social accountability: e.g., by domestic and international NGOs; the media; public hearings; social audits.

 

How can we ask for accountability when the SDGs are not binding?

 

  1. Some iron laws here:
  • Demanding accountability is not imposing conditionalities. (!)
  • It is a fallacy to talk about accountability fatigue when there has been so little of it.
  • There can be no accountability if responsibilities and duties of States are not binding.
  • Non-binding SDG goals bring promises and, historically, promises are broken.

 

Bottom line

 

  1. Anything less than full and meaningful accountability risks rendering the SDGs a set of lofty, but empty promises, rather than the transformative agenda that public interest civil society, the Secretary-General and many of the progressive States envision. It is not only about indicators and targets, but also about financing and lining up the means of implementation along the lines of the HR framework. (CESR, Human Rights Caucus, Amnesty International)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmail.com

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

Every day is a rough day for claim holders. They feel left out of any control. They are not sure what to do. Every day is anxious, and every day will be like this for the foreseeable future (if they do not get organized to claim). “What will happen today? Will my and others’ rights be infringed upon yet for another day?” (not if they get organized to claim) (Sunil Rajaraman)

 

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