The Human Rights Guide to the SDGs: An Invaluable Tool for Civil Society

Amanda Franklin-Ryan photoby Amanda Franklin-Ryan, Intern, Sustainable Development Programme at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, @HumanRightsDK

With the next High Level Political Forum (HLPF) just two months away, leaders from across the globe are focusing on their commitment to ensure that “no one is left behind”. But in a world of 7 billion people and counting, just how is this possible?

While there may be no silver bullet for defeating extreme poverty, success is only possible through adaptable national policy informed by civil society participation and guidance.

With the financial downturn quickly followed by the Arab Spring and refugee crisis, the world is moving fast and policy must follow or risk becoming obsolete.

Working on the ground, local NGOs may observe school dropout rates amongst indigenous girls rising despite new education policies to reach Goal 4. However, official statistics could demonstrate encouraging increases in overall school attendance with averaged figures masking uneven progress. If civil society advocates realise these new policies are inadvertently side-lining indigenous girls, it is essential to lobby governments for immediate changes, but this can prove challenging. To convincingly push for reform in the light of apparent success, accurate data and information are critical. Yet, with civil society budgets already squeezed, data collection could prove expensive and it is here that human rights prove invaluable.

The Value of Human Rights to Civil Society

Piecing together data and information from human rights monitoring bodies reveals the evolution of the human rights landscape over the last 65 years, focusing especially on the most vulnerable groups. Covering everything from the rights of women (CEDAW) to those of persons with disabilities (CRPD), these monitoring bodies provide a wealth of data. How do girls’ literacy rates compare to those of their male counterparts? If unemployment rates drop, are a disproportionate number of immigrants still unable to find work? Answering these questions could provide vital information to help civil society persuasively demand reform.

While this human rights data is invaluable, navigating the tangle of instruments, conventions and monitoring bodies is challenging at best. Which human rights instruments are relevant to each target? Does Goal 5 link only to the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) or could other bodies provide relevant information?

To address this very problem, the Danish Institute for Human Rights has designed a user friendly searchable database linking the Sustainable Development Goals and each of their targets with 56 key human rights and labour conventions. By pinpointing the relevant conventions, it is easier to identify the monitoring bodies collecting applicable data and use this to influence implementation. Conversely, identifying the development goals applicable to each convention could help monitoring bodies find key data for their work.

The Human Rights Guide to the SDGs in Practice

Available in five languages, the Human Rights Guide to the SDGs is the perfect tool for helping civil society identify relevant data. For example, it reveals that useful sources of statistical information for NGOs working on gender equality (Goal 5) extend far beyond CEDAW, with the reports of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also yielding key information.

Similarly, if a trade union is looking to improve workers’ rights, which goals should they focus on? Searching the database for “labour” reveals not only that Goal 8 (full and productive employment) is relevant but also Goal 10 (reducing inequality between countries) and Goal 12 (ensuring responsible consumption patterns). Using the database to display the international labour standards linked to these goals can then help trade unions identify vulnerable groups and provide tailored policy proposals.

With links to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, it is clear that indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and children are among the groups of particular concern.

Practically, protecting their rights includes ensuring that the employment of children in work hazardous to their health or morals is punishable by law (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights art. 10.3.) and that direct assistance is provided to remove them (ILO 182). Similarly, creating inclusive workplaces requires promoting the employment of persons with disabilities in the private sector through appropriate policies possibly including affirmative action or other incentives (CRPD. Art. 27.1.h). Likewise, educational programmes must take into account indigenous peoples’ languages and culture (UNDRIP).

Linking the Sustainable Development Goals with human rights also offers civil society additional lobbying potential beyond 2030. Political goodwill can all too easily be flung out by the next administration, but human rights law is binding and cannot be so easily disregarded. As disability rights campaigner Diane Kingston argues, “The SDGs are for 15 years, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities is for life”.

With just 15 years to eliminate extreme global poverty, time is of the essence. Moving the Agenda from New York’s conference tables to the world’s streets requires definitive civil society action informed by accurate disaggregated data. Only with this combination, supported by a human rights framework, will we truly ensure that no one is left behind.

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