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Video Message to the President of the General Assembly’s High-level event on the Contributions of Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the Post 2015 Development Agenda

New York, 9 June 2014

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Excellencies, distinguished representatives, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege to join you for this important event. I thank the President of the General Assembly for organising it, and for his leadership in reinforcing this crucial message: human rights must be central to the post-2015 development agenda.

Your deliberations over the coming two days will cover two key topics – human rights and the rule of law.

With regard to human rights, allow me to make a few brief points, many of which are closely linked to my own experience.

Over the past decade – spanning the Millennium Summit; the MDG reviews in 2005 and 2010; and the Rio+20 Summit – member States have repeatedly emphasized their commitment to development that realizes human rights: by aiming for the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as the right to development, by reducing inequalities and discrimination, and by ensuring accountability. They have recognised, in other words, that human rights are relevant to every item on the development agenda. Thus, for the post-2015 agenda, we do not need a stand-alone human rights goal. Rather, all goals must reflect human rights standards and principles – and explicitly so.

To clarify, let me offer four suggestions that respond to some of the questions you will be discussing over the next two days.

First, the new agenda must address both sides of the development challenge: freedom from want and freedom from fear. We have witnessed over the past few years how freedom from want without freedom from fear is unsustainable and vice versa. In order that development goals can achieve “freedom from want”, the Open Working Group is currently discussing targets that reflect human rights standards. On education, for example, current targets aim for primary education free of charge, access to inclusive education without discrimination and education of good quality, thus reflecting key dimensions of the human right to education.
But we also need to integrate freedom from fear. People around the world are crying out for real guarantees of personal security, fair administration of justice and meaningful public participation in decisions that affect their lives. The rule of law is an important principle in this regard. But it is important to remember that rule of law, as understood by the United Nations, is not value free. Not every law is a good law. And not every effort to enforce a law protects people’s human rights. As a South African, this is something I know only too well. Under apartheid, we certainly had a strong system of law, but it did not uphold human rights – it legalized discrimination and injustice; it was arbitrary and unfair. We had “rule by law”, but not “rule of law”. In short, the rule of law without respect for human rights is an empty shell.

Secondly, the new framework must be underpinned by the human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination. We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by the same focus on averages and aggregate progress that blighted the MDGs. Imagine if, under apartheid, we had focused only on averages and aggregates. You can see immediately how this would have obscured the bitter reality of injustice and profoundly unequal development and entrenched discrimination. I applaud the Open Working Group’s commitment to a goal that prominently addresses inequalities, and I encourage you to retain this focus.

Thirdly, the new agenda must include a strong global partnership which ensures that international policy is coherent with human rights, including the right to development. This means, for example, that we need to address power imbalances in global governance. We must create an enabling environment for development – one that ensures that the international regimes for trade, investment, intellectual property and international cooperation are consistent with, and respectful of, human rights standards.

Finally, the Post-2015 agenda must be based on a strong accountability framework, which includes accountability for actors in the private sector. The lack of accountability for progress has been a key reason that the MDGs have fallen short of their potential. Fortunately, we can build on existing accountability mechanisms at national and international levels.

Excellencies, we have a unique opportunity to redefine the very idea of global development in the 21st century. Political decision-makers, technical experts, economic actors – for all of us, there can be no work more meaningful than this. As we continue to define the new development framework, I trust that all of us will stay true to the words and the spirit of one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Let us aim for development as freedom from fear and freedom from want for all people, without discrimination.

Thank you.