Ms. Maria Francesca Spatolisano Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

High-level Panel
Human Rights Council Intersessional Meeting for Dialogue and Cooperation on Human Rights and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Thank you for inviting me to share my experience in this extremely qualified panel.

I have 3 points to make: one is about the general context in which this exchange takes place; two is about the most recent collective assessment of what to do; and three is about the tools we have at our disposal, to achieve   a maximum of synergies between Human Rights and Sustainable Development Goals implementation.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community put development at the centre of work of the United Nations. The Agenda is grounded in human rights and the acknowledgment that promoting sustainable development is the best investment for peaceful and prosperous societies that provide opportunities for all while safeguarding the environment. The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals means that, adopting a more holistic and coherent approach across peace, development, and human rights is necessary.

The only way forward, actually.

It is often noted that human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are two sides of the same coin as most of the goals and targets of the SDGs correspond to human rights obligations. Many of the SDGs relate closely to economic, social and cultural rights. SDG 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions, directly covers several dimensions of civil and political rights, for example. Thus, as Member States make progress on promoting and protecting human rights, they are also making progress on the achievement of the SDGs and vice versa.

The most recent assessment of where we collectively stand comes through the unanimous adoption of the Political Declaration at the SDG Summit. Member States confirmed their determination to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. And this is in itself a reassuring message, far from a given thing, in the current international environment, where multilateralism is under attack in many ways.

They also expressed their resolve to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

But it was clear that in spite of the many important progress, the world is not on track to achieve these goals.  Hence, the SG call to enter a Decade of Action and Delivery for Sustainable Development.

Now it is primarily for MS to implement their pledges; and it is urgent to act! But the United Nations also need to take urgent action, precisely in order to support Member States in stepping up their level of ambition and accelerating actions.

The Political Declaration identifies ten cross-cutting areas for action.

One of the cross-cutting areas in the Political Declaration is “Leaving no one behind”. Member States committed to placing a focus on the poorest and most vulnerable in their policies and actions. This is an important entry point for promoting human right and SDG implementation.  Furthermore, the Political Declaration includes a commitment to targeted and accelerated action to remove all legal, social and economic barriers to achieve gender quality and the empowerment of women and girls, and the realization and enjoyment of their human rights.

Another cross-cutting area that is highly relevant for human rights is “strengthening institutions for more integrated solutions”.  Effective, accountable and transparent institutions can empower the poor and marginalized to claim their rights. More responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making processes are key to building trust and to leave no one behind.

All in all, as we heard at the SDG Summit, this means we need to put people and their rights at the center of decision-making and to ensure a whole-of-society approach involving all people (to ensure that no one is left behind in the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development), if these commitments are to be meaningful.

Let me now provide one example of a community that is being left behind – indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples are often marginalized and continue to suffer the effects of conflict, discrimination and disproportionately high levels of poverty. Some are being dispossessed of their traditional lands as their livelihoods are being undermined. Meanwhile, their belief, cultures and languages and ways of life continue to be threatened, sometimes even by extinction. During a moment in which space is shrinking for civil society – indigenous environmental and human rights defenders are being disproportionately targeted.

The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues provides a platform for the participation of governments and indigenous representatives each year at its extremely well-attended annual sessions.

A recent success of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues, under the chairmanship of the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, was its preparation of the System-Wide Action Plan on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This provides the framework for support from the UN system for country-level initiatives, including through the new reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system

How can we develop the much needed synergies between human rights bodies and the SDGs ? Certainly an important area for cooperation which includes the UN family and the MS, but also many other stakeholders,  is the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the overarching UN body for follow-up to the 2030 Agenda. The Human Rights Council contributed to the July 2019 HLPF, based on its January 2019 intersessional meeting. The High Commissioner for Human Rights presented that contribution in the HLPF.

The UN human rights pillar can and in fact does contribute to the HLPF Human rights mechanisms also regularly send their written inputs to the HLPF which are widely available on the HLPF website. The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education spoke at the July 2019 HLPF. This is very welcome and it is of the utmost importance that this practice continues, as these exchanges cross-fertilise our respective agendas and strengthen our actions.

As we discuss how the human rights pillar of the United Nations can accelerate the realization of the SDGs, one practical suggestion is for the UN to ensure that Member States capitalize on the wealth of information and data available from the human rights mechanisms when preparing their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF). All UN Member States report under the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council and all State parties to human rights treaties report on the treaties they have ratified. Moreover, the reports prepared by the special procedures of the Human Rights Council – both country and thematic special procedures – provide important insights which are relevant to the implementation of the SDGs. All these resources should be better exploited.

At the same time, we must bear in mind that the VNRs are different from the Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights. They aim primarily at accelerating SDG progress, exchanging experiences andmobilising partnerships. They are thus complementary to the VNRs.

Examples from the 2019 VNR Synthesis Reports on how VNRs address human rights:

  • Following a rights-based approach to the principle of Leave No One Behind, a number of VNRs in 2019 reported on the enactment of rights enshrined in their constitutions and legislation including, for example the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • One country’s VNR underscored that elaborating the collection and analysis of disaggregated data must also ensure that the breakdown of data is done according to a human rights-based approach, especially for sensitive data such as race and ethnicity, migration status and disability.
  • Another review noted advocacy of LNOB through its membership in the UN Human Rights Council and all multilateral fora.
  • Some countries stressed the importance of youth participation in environmental sustainability and climate change.
  • The reviews of some countries discussed national measures to mitigate the various challenges associated with migration, including the development of social integration policies, creation of effective monitoring and tracking systems for all migrants and inclusion of migration issues into national development plans.
  • Many reviews outlined sector-specific policies, national action plans and laws to promote the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities, and for LGBTIQ.
  • Many countries identified ageing and the rights of older persons as an important contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

These references are there not by accident, but by design, as the Secretary-General’s Guidelines for preparation of the Voluntary National Reviews explicitly encourage VNR countries to coordinate with other reporting processes, including those related to human rights. Yet they should be more frequent, more systemic.

To conclude, the 2030 Agenda is a human rights-based agenda and by mainstreaming SDGs, it also takes human rights and rights-based approaches to development into account.

Implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving its Sustainable Development Goals cannot be done without the elimination all forms of discrimination, the drastic reduction of economic inequalities that undermine human rights and the empowerment and inclusion of people who are furthest behind.

We are working hard to bring the Geneva and New York communities together. As I said, the Human Rights Commissioner participates in the HLPF and the President of ECOSOC participates in the HRC. It is in this spirit that I am here with you today. I will convey the essence of our discussions to both the President of ECOSOC and the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, with a view to continued cooperation.

Thank you.

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