Although most Millennium Development Goals (MDG) can be reframed in terms of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to health, education or food, the project lacks a human rights perspective. With less than three years to go to the 2015 target, the MDGs are far from being achieved. According to the latest Millennium Development Goals Report, advances can be noted for several health goals such as a decrease in new HIV infections and deaths attributed to tuberculosis. On the other hand, progress on gender equality, access to education, water and sanitation, remains very slow.

The panelists identified some of the causes underlying the difficulties in implementing MDGs: 

Focusing on the gender dimension of social protection, Magdalena Sepulveda (UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights) said that social grants should not only be based on general criteria but should also consider the risks and vulnerabilities of specific groups. Social protection schemes that fail to consider the circumstances of women in certain countries might violate the rights of the very people they are meant to protect. She advocated a bottom-up approach involving not only policy-makers but also civil society and NGOs on the ground so that local needs in each country can be adequately provided for.

Magdalena Sepulveda

Magdalena Sepulveda UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Christophe Golay, Former Advisor to the first Special Rapporteur on the right to food, added that a successful framework for MDG's must be based on analysis, action and accountability. Poverty and hunger are often caused by exclusion and discrimination. Human rights need to be used to reverse the situation through transparent policies respecting human dignity and the rule of law. Most importantly, there needs to be accountability mechanisms whereby progress in each country is continually assessed.

Christophe Golay Christophe Golay, Former Advisor to the first Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, emphasized that education plays a central role in the realization of all other MDGs. He said national legislation in least developed countries should promote gender equality in education by taking into consideration the phenomena of marginalization and exclusion. A rights-based approach is particularly relevant in this regard as it anchors education in equitable learning opportunities for all.

Kishore Singh

Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh.

Anand Grover (UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health) suggested that the implementation of MDGs requires an international legal framework that includes non-state actors whose impact on human rights should not be neglected. Global governance, he said, is largely shaped by the decisions of international organizations whose programs sometimes fail to address the real needs of the people. Transnational corporations are also key players as they have the means to constrain governments, as demonstrated by the recent lawsuit initiated by Philip Morris against Uruguay, seeking compensation for damage allegedly caused by the state's anti-tobacco measures.

Considering MDGs from a broader perspective, Anand Grover concluded that whether the goals will be achieved by each state individually by 2015 is not essential. MDGs have created a framework that is both inclusive of all states and a common incentive for the future. This is leading many states to rethink economic development and commit themselves to a new set of goals to address the challenges of our time.

Photo © Ziyoda Kurbanova