Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of editing the previous two posts (here and here) regarding the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It’s clear now that not many if any will be met. Those that have been or are being met are not being welcomed with the cheers of a rousing success, but the pursed lips and raised eyebrows of concern. And rightly so – there is much still yet to be done.
A little late to the game but relevant to this matter nonetheless is a podcast I was listening to. The Guardian Global Development podcast episode from March 27, 2012. On it the panel members were discussing the MDGs and what was to be done next, whether they are a success and what needs to change for the next go round. It was at roughly at the 32:30 mark that an audience member asked about human rights and human development.
The audience member asks about human rights in regards to the MDGs, which have no explicit element to them. Rather, they focus on more tangible and ‘acceptable’ development goals that any government can accept. Listening in, the panel sounds like they’ve immediately dismissed the question, never harkening back to it or specifically speaking about human rights. Rather, they address the MDGs relevant to their particular area of expertise.
The big one mentioned was maternal health and the right to it, which Mike Miesen discussed in his post ‘MDG 5a: An Update On Maternal Mortality‘. Mike writes about the need for the world to re-evaluate and ramp up its work on reducing the mateernal mortality rate, as at the moment we’re failing to reach that 75% reduction rate. Scott Weathers also contributed a post about the MDGs, ‘Goals are good, but do the MDGs need to be simplified?‘ Soctt asks the equal vital question of how to make the goals manageable and understandable. This though may have an adverse effect on any human rights aspects, if they exists, included in the MDGs as they could be left out entirely or watered down to such a degree that few would recongise them as human rights.
In discussion with a friend, who initially told me about this very episode, we came to wonder – have human rights in fact been included in the MDGs? She like me, not so much waffles between opinions, but remains unsure – and for the following reasons.
1. One argument is that the MDGs been broken down into their relevant sectors reflected and thus made manageable for governments, without the obvious tropes commonly associated with human rights – no direct calls for votes, democracy, representation or judiciary measures. Supporting evidence would be the focus on women’s health, equality and education for all, both implicitly grounded in human rights.
Those human rights that certain countries, like Turkmenistan, argue as a right such as ‘the right to food’ are included – even as the debate, albeit small, remains as to whether this in fact a right. The argument here often falls on the definition of ‘the right to life’, given that food is a necessity for life but there is no guarantee that anyone should have access to/receive it. Hence, countries such as Turkmenistan will provide bread, rice, salt and other rations as part of the state’s ensuring the ‘right to life’ of its citizens, while arguing that the US does not as they do not provide such staples.
2. The contrary argument being the fact that there is no clear language in any of the MDGs calling for human rights as a whole, especially those that extend to housing, governance and rule of law. Instead there is talk of trade, debt relief and aid coordination – all worthy in their own rights and not to be dismissed, but not directly connected to human rights either. Many of the matters associated with everyone, not just women, are not included in the MDGs.
Leaving certain rights out, one can argue that human rights are being dismissed entirely – as its a one for all and all for one deal. Piecemeal implementation allows for privileged application, creating the inequality that the MDGs seek to eradicate. But, given the UN’s perennial inability to implement anything beyond its obligation to annual pay raises for its employees, how are they are expected provide for and guarantee rights for all?
The line between human rights and development, in my opinion, is never an easy one to walk. It’s why there are so many organisations with a range of operating procedures. It’s the impetus for MSF’s creation. To say their entirely separate is if anything to deny the very reason that we’re in this business to begin with – to help people – because not everyone needs the same sort of help.
My questions for the readers of WhyDev are these:
- Are human rights included in the MDGs? If not should they be?
- If they are, then have they been blunted or reframed to be more acceptable?
- Do human rights have a place in development, particularly on the global scale?