Advancing sustainable development through human rights

Human rights create conditions essential for sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda recognizes that inclusive and participative economies, and societies in which government is accountable, achieve better outcomes for all people, leaving no one behind. The Declaration on the Right to Development emphasizes the right of all individuals and peoples to free, active and meaningful participation. And the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) set out the duty of States and private companies to ensure that business activities do not abuse people’s rights.

Civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights and the right to development build on each other and advance together. No matter how free individuals are to speak out and protest, they are not truly free if they lack food, education or adequate housing. The reverse is also true. Societies in which people have access to fundamental social protections, and economic resources and opportunities, are less vulnerable to social fracture and the spread of extremism.

Despite this, economic policies in many countries have curtailed social protection and concentrated wealth and political power in fewer and fewer hands. Unsustainable, wasteful growth patterns increase environmental degradation and accelerate climate change, generating effects that harm health, access to water and sanitation, food, housing and land rights, and endanger life. The poorest, who contribute least to climate change, pay the highest price.

Over the period 2018-2021, together with our partners, we will work so that:

Judicial and non-judicial mechanisms hold business and other economic actors to account for rights abuses and provide remedies to victims.

We will provide technical support, guidance and advocacy to increase the effectiveness of judicial and non-judicial accountability mechanisms and policies to address human rights abuses arising from economic activity, including in cross border cases; clarify legal options and identify practical measures to improve access to remedy for victims of human rights abuses that involve businesses and other economic actors, including in the technology and finance sectors; and strategically engage with business and other economic actors to enhance accountability and access to remedy.

Business actors implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights effectively.

We will work strategically with States, businesses, civil society and other key stakeholders to apply and integrate the UNGPs in national, regional and international legal and policy frameworks relevant to business and other economic actors, and in company practice. We will advocate, support, convene and participate in multi-stakeholder and inter-governmental processes to develop and strengthen standards and policies in this area, and enter into strategic partnerships where appropriate with business and other actors to enhance implementation of the UNGPs.

State authorities adopt and implement laws, policies and strategies on land andhousing that increasingly comply with human rights.

We will strengthen efforts to support authorities to integrate human rights standards when they draft and implement laws, policies and strategies on land and housing; assist accountability mechanisms to address forced evictions, homelessness, displacement, land grabs and other violations of housing, land and related rights such as food, water and sanitation; strengthen partnerships to increase awareness of the right to housing and land rights; and develop practical approaches to implement the SDG commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ with respect to housing, land and related human rights.

Public health approaches, including sexual and reproductive health policies, comply with international human rights standards and provide non-discriminatory access, especially to children, adolescents, women and migrants.

We will work to deepen understanding of the impact of discrimination on health rights, including by monitoring health care settings, and provide technical advice on the right to health of people who are marginalized or face discrimination. We will seek to increase awareness among health workers of their role as human rights defenders and protect those who defend and promote human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights. We will promote and support protection of health-related human rights during efforts to prevent or respond to conflicts, epidemics, natural disasters and other crises, and assist humanitarian actors to apply a rights-based approach to health in those situations.

Environmental and climate policies and plans increasingly respect, protect and fulfil human rights, guaranteeing those affected access to information, decision-making, public participation and remedies.

We will collaborate with partners to integrate human rights in environmental laws and policies; and press for the inclusion of civil society in environmental decision-making processes, access to information, and effective remedies for victims. We will assist human rights mechanisms to address environmental issues; advocate on behalf of environment defenders and support efforts by the UN system to protect them; and conduct research and advocacy to address human rights harms caused by environmental degradation, particularly to groups in vulnerable situations.

Human rights assessments and impact analyses mitigate, prevent or redress the negative effects of economic, trade and development policies and projects.

We will encourage and assist States and partners to apply human rights assessments and impact analysis to trade and investment policies, environmental and social risk management, and development finance.

We will help to create and maintain safeguard policies and independent accountability mechanisms for development financing institutions and will support populations affected by them. We will continue to provide technical support to human rights mechanisms on methodologies, including for the drafting of the Guiding Principles for Human Rights Impact Assessments of Economic Reform Policies.

States integrate human rights, including the right to development and human rights mechanisms’ outcomes, as they implement the sustainable development goals and other development and poverty eradication efforts; and the UN supports them in these purposes, integrating human rights in its own development work.

We will encourage and support governments, national human rights institutions and civil society to integrate human rights, including the right to development, when they implement, monitor or review the SDGs or other development efforts; and advocate for the integration of human rights in SDG processes in intergovernmental fora. We will advocate for expanding civil society participation in SDG processes; document and communicate how integrating human rights in development reduces poverty and inequality; work to enhance the UN leadership’s commitment to align, and advocate for the alignment of, development policies with human rights; and buttress the human rights expertise of Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams in this area, inter alia by operationalizing the UN framework on equality and non-discrimination. Finally, we will provide expertise and support to the Working Group and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development; and seek to expand support for the right to development and its integration in the SDGs and work of the UN.

National institutions, assisted by communities, systematically collect, disaggregate and use data relevant for advancing human rights when they monitor and implement the sdgs.

We will work to improve the capacity of national institutions to collect, analyse and disaggregate data to identify those left behind, and promote the inclusion in data collection of groups who face discrimination. We will develop legal and practical guidance on human rights-based data collection and indicators, including on ways to manage risk; and seek to improve measurement of intersecting and multiple discrimination and inequality. We will assist the international statistical system to mainstream human rights in its standards and methods, and notably in the data disaggregation frameworks that measure and report on human rights indicators as part of SDG progress reports.

Work under all six pillars covers the core components of our mandate, enabling universal but strategic coverage (given resource limits) of human rights in all countries. The thematic pillars are indivisible, interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

Through four major Shifts to our approach, we will better adapt our work to the changing external context. These shifts will help us focus on key threats to rights and key opportunities for leveraging support to better protect and promote rights. The shifts we will make across our six pillars are to:

  • Support prevention of conflict, violence and insecurity.
  • Protect and expand civic space.
  • Support and further develop the global constituency for human rights.
  • Deliver human rights in the context of emerging global concerns (‘frontier issues’).

These Shifts’ will further unify our efforts as one Office; driving coherence, scale and measurable human rights impact in an uncertain world.

Our work will be ‘people-centred’. Across everything we do, including when we focus on the human rights of other population groups, we will shine a spotlighton the human rights of women, young people and persons with disabilities. In support of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda’s human rights-based commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, we will highlight the human rights concerns of women, young people and persons with disabilities, including as defenders of rights.