The Ripple Effect of Rights-based Approaches: Creating Waves of Positive Change
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Equal, inclusive and just societies, without discrimination, are the ultimate realization of the vision embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; this vision is the bedrock on which the 2030 Agenda is built.

Without thinking of the rights of every individual as the central driver of policy reform, we will not end poverty or reduce inequalities.

However, we can shift the world onto a just and sustainable path for people, planet and prosperity if everyone is fully able to take part in decisions affecting their lives.

The 2030 Agenda is our roadmap to a world in which all human beings live free and equal in dignity and rights. With just over ten years left on the clock, and with political commitments too often flagging, human rights-based approaches can generate a surge towards achieving all SDGs.

We can shift the world onto a just and sustainable path for people, planet and prosperity only if everyone is fully able to take part in decisions affecting their lives. Recognizing this, the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development will convene this July under the theme ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.’

Equal, inclusive and just societies, without discrimination, are the ultimate realization of the vision embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This vision is the bedrock on which the 2030 Agenda is built. Without thinking of the rights of every individual as the central driver of policy reform, we will not end poverty or reduce inequalities. We will not create conditions for shared and sustainable prosperity or promote sustainable peace and justice. We will not reach those furthest behind – and others may be pushed even further back.

You don’t have to be a wealthy country. But you do have to be bold enough to confront some powerful lobbies.

Adopting people-centered policies and using human rights-based approaches as tools can generate priceless dividends. It can create waves of positive change – transforming societies, and eradicating exclusion, discrimination, inequality and injustice. As a former Head of Government and Head of State, I am well aware of the constraints that burden policymakers. But I also know that human rights-based policies can be put in place – and I know they can achieve important progress.

You don’t have to be a wealthy country. You don’t need to have attained some mythical level of social, economic or political development. But you do have to set priorities and be bold enough to confront some powerful lobbies. And most of all, you must put human beings, and human rights, at the center of policies.

Though we may sometimes overlook them, we are surrounded by good human rights stories – cases where human rights-based policy has led to transformative change. The most effective remedies address root causes. They are also the product of broad discussion in spaces where ideas and solutions can be discussed constructively, giving a voice to all involved.

Good human rights stories will, I hope, be shared at the 2019 HLPF, which will examine progress on SDG 4 (quality education); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities); SDG 13 (climate action); SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions); and SDG 17 (partnerships for the Goals). I am sure we can all learn from good practices linked to these Goals; in fact, I heard some inspiring examples at the Human Rights Council Intersessional meeting on human rights and the 2030 Agenda earlier this year, and hope to hear more, both at the Forum and the SDG Summit in September.

Human rights are integral to each and every one of the SDGs. Take SDG 10, for example. Reducing inequalities is fundamental to promoting human rights. By stripping people of opportunities, resources and voice, inequalities and discrimination push the most marginalized to the outskirts of society. They are the most likely to go hungry, live in unhealthy conditions, suffer from natural disasters and epidemics, lose access to services and essential safety nets, and suffer violence and injustice.

The connections with other SDGs are clear. People who suffer discrimination and marginalization are also among those most vulnerable to natural disasters – the focus of SDG 13. SDG 8 is about decent work: a secure livelihood can keep hunger away. Quality education is vital to achieving other goals beyond SDG 4. And how do we achieve the Goals? SDG 16 provides the “process” keys to unlocking the transformative potential in the SDG framework to sustain just and peaceful societies by committing to participatory, representative, inclusive, decision-making processes and governance. SDG 17 maps it: through partnerships and by securing adequate resources to ensure delivery.

Failure to deliver on these Goals would be a political, economic, social and environmental calamity. Inequalities, exclusion, discrimination and human rights violations deprive people of their voice in decision-making – their power. They fuel grievances and erode social cohesion. They feed into an increasing backlash – not just against élites, but against institutions of governance – as people who feel powerless and ignored turn to the voices of anger and hatred. They undermine peace, they undermine development, and they undermine human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations.

Reforming policy with a people-centered approach means taking concrete action to strengthen state role and responsibilities to secure freedom from fear and want. It means ensuring a fair tax system that generates the resources to deliver. It means providing universal social protection and universal health coverage, protecting labor rights, and securing the right to education for all children. It means putting an end to all forms of discrimination and exclusion. And it means ensuring that everyone can fully participate in decisions that affect them.

My Office is strongly supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda. But it is not just our job – it is your job, too. Together, we can create that surge of change.

The author of this guest article, Michelle Bachelet, is the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.


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