Justice 2015: Redefining the World’s Development Agenda

The MDGs left out the rule of law, human rights, and democracy on the grounds that progress could not be properly measured. This time around, we think these things can be measured, and must be included.
With the UN's Millennium Development Goals set to expire in 2015, the countries of the world are drawing up new priorities for the next decade and beyond. Consultations on the so-called post-2015 development agenda are well underway. Aidan Harris, a program officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, walks us through the process.

Don’t we have a development agenda already?

Luckily, yes. In 2000, the UN General Assembly agreed on the Millennium Declaration—in which states agreed on key priorities to work towards to better the lives of their people. That document led to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight “high level” goals, meant to be reached by 2015. Each goal is sub-divided by targets to be achieved, with indicators to measure progress. The adoption of this one core set of principles has radically shaped the choices made in the national development policies of almost every country in the world. But while the MDGs have resulted in considerable benefits for millions of people, they have also attracted criticism for the ways in which they have distorted and simplified development priorities.

But what happens when the MDGs expire in 2015?

That is indeed the question of the moment. Hopefully, the member states of the United Nations will eventually agree on a post-2015 development agenda. If they do, it will surely have as dramatic an effect on the next 15 years of development policy as the MDGs have had since 2000. Now is the crucial moment to ensure that the gains made by the MDGs are consolidated and the gaps are addressed.

Gaps? What gaps?

The original Millennium Declaration included agreement on the need to take steps to further peace and security and “promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.” But the MDGs left out the rule of law, human rights, and democracy on the grounds that progress could not be properly measured. This time around, we think these things can be measured and must be included. Other goals in the MDGs, such as education, have made considerable progress but towards the wrong aims. The focus of achieving universal primary education, for example, has seen millions more children in the classroom but has not necessarily achieved better educational outcomes. Framing a goal on education around the right to education would emphasize equity and quality in the classroom, rather than just the number of students.

So who decides what gets included now?

Ultimately, the members of the United Nations General Assembly will agree on something, probably at the end of 2015, after lots of last-minute, cliffhanger negotiations. At the moment we are approaching the end of the first stage of this process—the effort led by Ban Ki-moon to listen to as many views as possible from nongovernmental groups and thinkers before the intergovernmental negotiations begin. That will start on September 25, when the Secretary General presents a progress report on achieving the MDGs, which is expected to also include a report on the consultations he has received on the post-2015 agenda, including, or not, the views of a High Level Panel of experts that reported at the end of May.

Who else is involved in all this consultation?

Watch out for the Open Working Group (OWG)—a group of 30 member states established by last year’s Rio +20 Conference on sustainable development. They are supposed to be consulting on proposed new Sustainable Development Goals for the world. How does that fit with above process? Many people, including the UN Secretary General, have spoken of the need to ensure that the world is presented with one set of development goals in 2015. As yet the relationship between the SDGs and the successor to the MDGs is not yet clear. There have also been 11 thematic consultations and numerous regional and national consultations undertaken by the UNDP and other parts of the UN System.

Anything else?

The MDGs helped millions to escape poverty and access essential services. Those gains need to be protected and entrenched. But they also tended to exclude the very poorest and most-marginalized people. At the Open Society Foundations, we believe the post-2015 development agenda must address both of these points: safeguard the gains made to date and reach those that have been excluded. We don’t want to see MDGs 2.0: more ambitious versions of targets which have not even been met yet. We want something transformative.

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Agreed that the MDGs tended to exclude the poorest and most marginalized people, and this was unfortunate. We hope in the new post 2015 development goals, the 1 billion disabled people on the planet are remembered. Will those with the authority to set these goals make inclusion and access to development a cross-cutting theme?

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