‘MDGs structured without human rights approach’

Gambian activist says attaining the MDGs inconceivable in the

absence of an environment of rights and freedoms.


By Sanna Camara

One of the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according a Gambian civil society and development activist, is that they were conceived within the purview of human rights, but structured without a human rights approach to their realization.

Mr. Madi Jobarteh, program manager of the association of NGOs in The Gambia argued that development must be approached from the rights-based perspective and approach if the world is going to eradicate poverty, inequality and deprivation.

“In other words, rights and justice, which have been the missing link in the MDGs must be in the centre of development, for we cannot just leave development at the whims and caprices of leaders and governments to deliver anyhow!” he told the forum

Mr. Jobarteh made this submission at the UNDP Development Forum held in Banjul on Wednesday, 3rd April. The theme of the Forum was ‘Placing Human Rights and Justice at the Heart of Post 2015 Development Agenda’.

Unfolding consultations for the next agenda

He said as global, regional and national consultations unfold as to what the next agenda should be, “it is pertinent that we review this current framework in order to forestall future challenges.” He cited Chapter 1 of the 2001 Human Development Report, which states that development is about expanding the choices and people have to lead lives that they value.

“The 2012 human development report states that, ‘An essential part of human development is equity. Every person has the right to live a fulfilling life according to his or her own values and aspirations. No one should be doomed to a short life or a miserable one because he or she happens to be from the ‘wrong’ class or country, ethnic group or race or sex. Inequality reduces the pace of human development and in some cases may even prevent it entirely,” he noted.

This analysis, Jobarteh added,  is underpinned by the notion of human rights, but did human rights go to form the structure of human development interventions? In view of the foregoing, the point that needs to be strongly highlighted is that the attainment of the MDGs is inconceivable in the absence of an environment of rights and freedoms, he pointed out.


Linkage between poverty and rights, freedoms and governance

The civil society activist said when one casts a cursory look at poverty around the world; one would realize that poverty, inequality and deprivation are more prevalent in countries where there are significant limitations of rights and freedoms, thus also posing challenges within its governance system.

“For example, in the 2011 Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International, one would notice that 60% of the countries of the world classified as highly corrupt are all developing countries where government effectiveness and good governance are limited or weak. And corruption has been cited as one of the major causes of the Arab Spring. Thus good governance founded on the respect for fundamental rights and freedoms are non-negotiable prerequisite for the attainment of development,” he added.

The World Bank further adds that better governance helps in the fight against poverty and improves living standards. He said it has now been realized that good governance enhances public sector management, project implementation and community ownership and popular participation.

Jobarteh went on: “Researches by many scholars show that improved governance strengthens development and not the other way around. When governance is improved by one standard deviation, infant mortality declines by two-thirds and incomes rise about three-fold in the long run.”

World Bank indicators

The World Bank came up with a set of indicators, in further elaborating what really is good governance, which measure six broad dimensions of governance – “Voice and Accountability, Political Stability and Absence of Violence, Government Effectiveness, Regulatory Quality, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption”

“Thus the lack of good governance worsened by weak political leadership largely accounts for the slow progress of the MDGs,” Jobarteh argued.

Back to 1948

He went back into the historical background of the human rights in further elaborating his point, saying it is important for leaders, development thinkers and technocrats to cast their minds back to 1948. “Following the Second World Imperialist War, otherwise known as World War II, the world was shocked by the sheer carnage, atrocity and barbarity of the episode that the UN was led to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),” he said.

However, he said this was only a declaration and while nations and individuals are encouraged to make the UDHR a common standard of achievement, yet it was not an obligation on States to respect. This shortcoming of the UDHR led to the adoption of 2 covenants, which nations ratify and are held accountable for its provisions. From then on, he said the path of human rights promotion and protection opened with many more conventions dealing with various sections of society.

“A whole new system of accountability and standards were established to which States have to report on their level of implementation or the lack of it before a team of experts and panels,” he indicated, further arguing that human beings have a right to development because they are citizens of nations, which have governments that derive their legitimacy from the people.

Resources versus quality of governance

“The State collects taxes from the people and manages the sovereign resources of the people on their behalf. For this reason alone, people are entitled to development,” he argued.

Therefore, he went on, it is not primarily the amount of resources that will make the MDGs attainable, but the quality of governance founded on human rights and justice that will lead the world to eradicate poverty, inequality and deprivation in all their forms.

It is the system of governance that will determine the quality of popular participation and empowerment of the people and the manner of resource allocation, said he


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