Deputy Secretary-General, in Panel Discussion, Highlights Opportunity to Join Forces behind Transformative Agenda for Sustainable Development

12 June 2014

Deputy Secretary-General, in Panel Discussion, Highlights Opportunity to Join Forces behind Transformative Agenda for Sustainable Development

12 June 2014
Deputy Secretary-General
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General, in Panel Discussion, Highlights Opportunity to Join


Forces behind Transformative Agenda for Sustainable Development


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the panel discussion on “Exploring the Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Supporting National Efforts towards Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development”, in New York on 10 June:

First of all, I would like to thank our Moderator, Irene Khan, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization.  We look forward to your able guiding of this morning’s discussions.

I am also delighted to welcome my friend and predecessor as Deputy Secretary-General, the Honourable Asha-Rose Migiro, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of [the United Republic of] Tanzania, along with the other distinguished panellists and discussants at my side.

In the Millennium Declaration of 2000, the world leaders recognized that we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity.  The leaders promised to spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.

Progress has been made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  However, there are new challenges to our development agenda.  Inequality is on the rise.  Conflicts have not abated and are increasingly complex with growing ethnic and sectarian elements, as well as being exacerbated by terrorism and organized crime.  We are seeing strains on our resources and the effects of climate change.  Popular discontent and vulnerability trigger widespread social unrest and violence in today’s world, as we all know.

The Millennium Development Goals have demonstrated that our sustainable development efforts could have been enhanced by stronger emphasis on the rule of law and well-functioning institutions.

Today’s discussion provides is a valuable opportunity to assess how human rights and the rule of law have contributed — could contribute and, I hope, will contribute — to sustainable development.

All human rights — civil, political, economic and social — are, as we all know, indivisible, interdependent and mutually reinforcing.  The new development agenda will have to reflect the freedom from want and the freedom from fear.  Each part of the agenda will have to be underpinned by existing human rights obligations.  Human rights norms and standards should be instrumental in the formulation of goals, targets and indicators.

We now have an opportunity to join forces behind a transformative agenda for sustainable development.  Human rights are central to many of the necessary transformative shifts.  Let me briefly elaborate on a few core human rights principles which provide this transformational power:  non-discrimination and equality; participation; and accountability.

First, the twin principles of non-discrimination and equality are fundamental elements of human rights law.  They direct our attention to those who need our support: the most vulnerable, the poorest and the most marginalized.  They call for reorienting our strategy to address the structures which sustain discrimination and poverty.  These principles demand that, in a time and in an environment of limited resources, those most in need are to be given priority.

The second principle is participation.  People are the best drivers of their own development.  Active and informed participation in decision-making at all levels produces not only better strategies, but an ownership of the results.  This requires access to information, freedom of expression, of assembly and of association. 

Clear legal frameworks, strong institutions and transparency form the basis of the third principle: accountability.  Development is a right and a shared responsibility.  We need well-functioning, accessible and accountable institutions at the international and national levels to realize the right to development.

There is a growing understanding, as reflected in the Rio+20 document, that rule of law is essential to ensuring sustainable progress in economic, environmental and social development.  Member States are currently considering how to reflect the rule of law in the post-2015 agenda.  Let me briefly address some concrete aspects of the rule of law which are drivers of development.

The elements of the rule of law — for instance, the ones that were decided on 25 September 2012 — are not abstract concepts.  They relate to coherent legal frameworks anchored in human rights standards.  They support enforceable contracts and fair labour regulations, which are required for equitable and inclusive growth.

Rule of law requires that all persons have a legal identity.  It is needed to claim equal rights and to have access to public services, information and justice.  For example, in Angola and Egypt, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] has worked with national and local authorities to help issue identity cards.  There are so many people who simply do not exist formally.  Together civil society, UNICEF and the Government have created mechanisms to reach, in particular, women and marginalized groups.

The rule of law provides mechanisms for holding public officials accountable to their constituencies.  Accountability is essential to prevent the arbitrary exercise of power and to provide the stability and predictability required for development. 

For instance, this year, China adopted a policy to enhance accountability for the implementation of environmental regulations.  Companies are required to install monitoring equipment and to publicly disclose the emission of pollutants.  By this, industries know what to expect, and public servants are less likely to disregard non-compliance.

The rule of law also means independent and effective justice systems which protect people’s rights.  The ground-breaking work of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor showed us how important the rule of law is in enabling people to lift themselves out of poverty.  In Cambodia, a project called Public Interest Legal Advocacy has helped communities to assert their rights to land through collective judicial actions against illegal land seizures.  This project allowed many Cambodian families to reach settlements for the use of their land.

The rule of law also supports effective security systems and institutions.  Violence, conflict and crime undermine development.  In Guatemala, the International Commission against Impunity has helped to address organized crime and strengthen national institutions.  It has contributed towards the disbandment of illegal groups and strengthened the national justice system to tackle these groups in the future.

Institutions can and should also combat corruption, which erodes the resources needed for sustainable development.  It has been estimated that every year the developing world loses an appalling $1 trillion in illicit outflows through corruption, criminal activity and tax evasion.  Only for Africa, former President Thabo Mbeki has led a Commission that has concluded that $50 billion flows illicitly out of Africa every year.

There has been a discussion on how to measure impact and progress in the area of rule of law.  International and regional organizations have developed credible measurement methods on land and property security, corruption, justice, human trafficking, violence against women and girls, birth registration and access to services and information.

Progress has been made in finding measurable rule of law elements.  Countries are increasingly measuring the rule of law for use in national policy planning.  Timely and reliable statistics help decision-makers and ensure that policies are evidence-based.  And this, in turn, supports resource mobilization, transparency and accountability. Integrating rule of law in the post-2015 development agenda would foster this virtuous cycle and enhance stability of our efforts.

Finally, on the important principle of universality, let us remember that this is an organization of almost 200 Member States.  The development challenges of individual countries vary widely.  Our national experiences are deeply rooted in history, as well as in political and legal systems.

However, our aspirations for the well-being, security and justice in our families and in communities are universal.  As affirmed by the General Assembly, the rule of law has common features founded on international norms and standards.  Universally agreed norms can guide us towards a transformative and universal agenda.  And I am sure that if you all look into your nation’s history, you will find that institutions have played an important role in progress in all areas — political, economic, social.

Finally, let me close by quoting a certain Tanzanian former law professor.  As Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro once said, “The rule of law and human rights deserve our support because they foster development — but they demand our support in their own right as a matter of simple justice”.

I fully agree with my distinguished predecessor — and I look forward to her views and those of all of our distinguished panellists here today.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.