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Post-2015: Human rights law demands a comprehensive approach to development finance

In 2000, as part of the Millennium Development Goals, governments committed to Goal 8 on a “Global Partnership for Development.” While the other 7 goals dealt with issues that were measurable at the domestic level (percentage of people in poverty, maternal mortality rates, etc.) the Global Partnership for Development was meant to address areas where international cooperation was seen as necessary to make progress towards the goals.

But, what were the consequences for human rights and capabilities of how such international cooperation was conceptualized in MDG 8, and of the targets and indicators that were attached to it as representative of progress?

The mere attempt to craft a goal on “Global Partnership” represents, in and of itself, the quite ambitious task to capture and give shape to an elusive dimension of international human rights norms and principles, namely, the duty of all states to cooperate. Recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as everyone’s right to “a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized,” this dimension keeps appearing in international human rights instruments and, yet, drawing indicators that can help gauge implementation continues to prove elusive.

But, beyond the similarity of ambition that links MDG 8 to human rights references to something akin to an international partnership, the reality is that in MDG 8, as was the case with other MDGs, the choice of targets and indicators severely damaged the potential of the framework to serve the achievement of human rights.

The International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey in 2002, undertook the effort of addressing all sources of financing for development in a comprehensive and holistic way. In that sense, from a human rights perspective, it offered a framework superior to the narrowly selective approach of MDG 8.

Human rights obligations demand that for a government to justify that it cannot meet certain human rights due to a lack of resources it needs to show that it has made every effort to mobilize its “maximum available resources” towards such end. Considering resource constraints on the basis of a partial selection of sources of finance would not pass muster under this standard. If this is true for the “recipient” State, it has to be true also of the reciprocal obligation on the side of donors, creditors or partners. It means their compliance or lack thereof cannot be assessed, either, by looking at their behavior regarding a partial set of sources of finance.

A holistic picture of all sources of finance is, therefore, a requirement of a framework that claims to be aligned with human rights standards, as it would expose how the concerted sum of actions on different sources is helpful or detrimental to the realization of human rights. Instead, financing for development targets in MDG 8 only look at aid (Official Development Assistance), debt relief, and trade. Even these sources are approached in a very narrow way. For instance, the Monterrey Consensus pledged action to establish sovereign debt workout mechanisms. MDG 8, while pledging to “deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries… in order to make their debt sustainable in the long term” fails to have any indicator on sovereign debt workout mechanisms, arguably a requirement towards the end of making debt sustainable in the long term.

True, at the time governments agreed on the Millennium Development Goals, the Monterrey Conference had not happened. But the Millennium Declaration, from where the MDGs sprung, refers to the upcoming Financing for Development conference. Since targets and indicators were agreed later, it is not far-fetched to imagine that, with the adequate amount of political, a more comprehensive set of targets and indicators could have been attached to MDG 8, building on the consensus reached in Monterrey.

The most costly omission from not relying on the more comprehensive Monterrey Consensus framework for targets and indicators was, perhaps, the lack of references to financial regulation, an item that a chapter of the Monterrey Consensus on “systemic issues” had targeted. Would that have avoided the collapse of the international financial system in 2008 and the setbacks it brought to progress on the MDGs? Most likely not. But having targets and indicators on the matter could have generated some lasting sense of accountability, especially seeing the link between reckless deregulation of large advanced economies that act as financial centers and the negative development outcomes on some of the poorest countries in the world. Creating an agreed framework for collective accountability is, after all, one of the arguments used to support the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals in the first place.

As governments transit the path towards renewing their international cooperation on international development goals, the human rights community demands that targets and indicators in the framework be closely aligned with the international human rights framework.

Ensuring that the external forces that can affect the availability of resources for financing the goals are assessed in a holistic and comprehensive way is the first step.


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October 2018
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