Where are Human Rights and Good Governance in the New Sustainable Development Goals?

Prepared for the African Civil Society circle by: Oladele Arowolo, Human Sciences Research Council, Pretoria, South Africa. Additional comments were provided by members of the African Civil Society Circle


Back in September 2000, 192 states assembled at the United Nations to adopt the Millennium Declaration, a framework for accelerating the development and security of poorer countries. However, while the importance of human rights and good governance for development featured prominently in chapter V and the preamble of the declaration, these principles did not ultimately become part of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that flowed from the Millennium Declaration. Today, the international development community risks repeating the same mistakes and even sliding backwards in their commitment to human rights in the ongoing negotiations over the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the eventual successor framework to the MDGs.

The lack of attention to human rights and good governance in the current proposal for the Sustainable Development Goals and the course of the ongoing negotiations are cause for concern. While the negotiation process on the post-2015 vision is an intensely political exercise infused by differing worldviews and value conceptions, without firmly embedding principles of good governance and respect for human rights in the post-2015 development framework, the SDGs will fall short on the ambitions to truly achieve equitable growth and inclusive development.

We suggest three steps to ensure that human rights and good governance are firmly embedded in the new framework. First, governments must reverse their timid positions on human rights and honor existing human rights obligations. Second, the SDGs should include human rights and good governance principles in the fiercely debated “means of implementation.” Finally, following the negotiation phase, the implementation phase must actively monitor progress, or lack thereof, of human rights and good governance efforts.

The full paper is available for download.