MDG Summit: World leaders fail to uphold rights of the poorest

Amnesty International has warned that the plan of action on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by governments this week at a UN Summit in New York fails to uphold the rights of the world’s poorest people.

Despite overwhelming evidence that millions are being left out of the MDGs because discrimination and other human rights violations prevent them from accessing basic services, world leaders failed to seize the opportunity to put human rights at the heart of the MDGs.

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“With only five years to go, it is completely unacceptable that world leaders have still not agreed to take concrete action to address discrimination and other human rights violations, which prevent the MDGs from benefiting those who need them most.

“Although the plan of action includes language recognising that ‘the respect for and promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of effective work towards achieving’ the MDGs, there is no follow-through in terms of commitment to take any tangible action.”

And despite much rhetoric on the importance of accountability, the summit failed to identify an effective way to hold governments to account for achieving their MDG commitments or for ensuring that their MDG efforts are consistent with their human rights obligations.   

Salil Shetty added:

“In effect, world leaders are asking us to trust them, an incredible demand when we see the gap between what they are required to do and what they have delivered.”
The MDG target on slums has ignored more than a billion people for the past ten years, as it only commits to improving the lives of 10 per cent of slum dwellers. Yet the action plan does not address this serious and growing challenge.  Despite evidence that mass forced evictions are driving people further into poverty and thereby undermining all MDGs, there is no call on governments to end this practice. The plan talks instead of ‘reducing slum populations’, despite concerns that this could encourage more forced evictions.

In addition, the Summit did not address the root causes for lack of progress on achieving the MDGs. For example, the issue of unsafe abortion was ignored, despite it being a leading cause of maternal deaths and therefore a serious threat to reaching the MDG target on maternal mortality.

Although the plan of action includes a welcome emphasis on combating gender discrimination, it does not identify what governments should do to address discrimination and barriers faced by many other groups – including minorities, people with disabilities and Indigenous Peoples.

Salil Shetty continued:

“Governments are bound by international human rights law to uphold everyone’s rights to food, health, housing and water. Yet they spent precious time in negotiations fighting over whether human rights obligations they signed up to more than 40 years ago should even be referenced in the plan of action.

“If the MDGs are to achieve real change, world leaders must bring their national policies and practises in line with their obligation to respect and promote human rights.   

“The Summit has failed to specify clear and binding accountability mechanisms. But world leaders can still take action – and ensure that the MDGs do not fail the world’s poorest people. The way forward now lies with individual governments setting national targets to realise economic, social and cultural rights. They must also act to end discrimination and ensure people living in poverty can participate in MDG efforts and hold governments to account through courts and regulatory bodies.”

Notes to editors

An Amnesty International delegation, led by Secretary General Salil Shetty, is attending the MDG Summit in New York.

Press Conference Wednesday 22 September
Amnesty International will be participating in a press conference in New York, by members of the Global Call to Action against Poverty on Wednesday 22 September 13:15– 14:30 local time. Civil society leaders will give their reaction to the MDG Summit. UN Church Center, 777 UN Plaza, 44th Street at 1st Avenue, New York.

Work on the MDGs is part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign, which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign mobilises people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights.
The MDGs, which remain the most prominent global initiative to address poverty, were drawn from the Millennium Declaration adopted 10 years ago and agreed by World leaders who committed to achieving the targets by 2015.

The MDGs focus on eight areas: (1) eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; (2) providing universal primary education; (3) promoting gender equality and empowering Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights; (4) reducing child mortality; (5) improving maternal health; (6) combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; (7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and (8) developing a global partnership for development.

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