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MDGs and human rights: Challenges and opportunities

Sebastian Silva Leander
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

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In the Millennium Declaration, the international community reaffirmed its commitment to work together to eradicate poverty. Emanating from this declaration, the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provide clear and quantifiable targets in each of the eight priority areas identified by the international community: hunger, illiteracy, gender inequality, child and mother mortality, preventable diseases, environmental degradation and international cooperation.

The Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA) is a conceptual framework for human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. Though there is no single, universally agreed HRBA, a consensus is emerging within the UN system through the adoption of the "Common Understanding on a Human Rights Based Approach in Development Cooperation ", agreed in 2003.

Hence, while the MDGs define targets and set ends, the HRBA constitutes a framework and a methodology to work towards these ends. This paper explores how the latter can be made to contribute to the achievement of the former. The main conclusion of this analysis is that, while there are important synergies and areas of mutual complementarity between the two, there are also considerable risks and challenges involved.

The paper seeks to identify these, so as to find ways in which MDGs and HRBA can be made to interact in a mutually enhancing manner. This will be done, first by exploring how the MDGs fit into the existing international human rights framework. Second, the methodological framework of the HRBA shall be analysed so as to identify how it can help improve both the efficiency of MDG achievement, as well as correcting for some of the weaknesses inherent in that approach. Finally, it will be argued that the holistic approach to development, which characterizes the HRBA, can help broaden the focus of the MDG campaign, thus enabling a more sustainable achievement of the MDGs.

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