Wanted: Human Rights at Rio+20
Negotiations on the outcome of the conference, now entering a critical stage at the United Nations in New York, have so far left many disappointed for their lack of attention to human rights.
“You cannot think in the 21st Century about sustainable development without thinking about human rights,” said Craig Mokhiber of the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) at a panel discussion on April 27 in New York on human rights and Rio+20, as the June conference is known.
He observed that the first United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio 20 years ago recognised the importance of human rights to sustainable development. That, moreover, was before the human rights-based approach to development became the mantra of development agencies and only five years after the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development.
“The Rio Declaration put human beings at the centre of sustainable development. It called for their participation in decision-making; it called for their access to information and to justice; and it called for the fulfilment of the rights to development,” Mokhiber said.
The point was underlined by Richard Morgan of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), speaking on behalf the UN’s inter-agency initiative that seeks to integrate human rights in the organisation’s development work.
Morgan said the human rights principles of participation, non-discrimination, accountability, empowerment and rule of law were essential to achieving sustainable development.
Acknowledging improvements in the Rio+20 draft outcome document, he highlighted crucial human rights elements that were still missing, in particular mention of stunting in the context of nutrition; focus on slum dwellers; and reaffirmation of the right to water and sanitation.
Ralf Schröer of the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, alluding to the theme of the forthcoming Rio Conference, said that the right to water and sanitation “should – and must – be part of the future we want”.
“People should not be forced to choose between paying the water bills and pharmacy bills or the grocery bills. This is not acceptable from a human rights perspective,” said Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Development policies, she said, must reflect the principles of accountability, affordability and cultural acceptability. In this connection, a number of speakers emphasized the importance of carrying out human rights impact assessments on policies and their implementation.
In a recent letter (PDF) , the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay appealed to UN Member States to fully integrate key human rights considerations in the Rio+20 outcome document. She urged them to agree to “pursue a model of economic growth that is socially and environmentally sustainable, just and equitable, and respectful of all human rights.”
The panel discussion was organised by the United Nations; the Permanent Missions of Costa Rica, Germany, Liechtenstein, Norway and the Maldives to the United Nations; the Centre for International Environmental Law; the Council of Canadians; and IBON International.