SDGs and Human Rights
The 2030 Agenda is explicitly grounded in human rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to realise human rights for all. Moreover, the pledge to leave no one behind reflects the fundamental human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality. Implementing the SDGs therefore implicitly promotes human rights, and vice versa. They constitute two mutually reinforcing narratives, the SDGs being backup up by high-level political commitments, and human rights proving standards that in many cases are legally binding.
The SDGs can in some ways be seen as a way of operationalizing human rights commitments. For example, by investing in quality education for all, states are contributing to the realization of the right to education as well as towards e.g. SDG 4 on quality education.
As demonstrated in the Human Rights Guide to the SDGs, more than 90% of SDG targets are related to international human rights, labour or environmental instruments. The synergies are enormous and tools such as the SDG-Human Rights Data Explorer can help states connect their SDG commitments with the relevant recommendations from the UN Human Rights monitoring mechanisms. Making active use of the guidance from human rights recommendations and instruments can improve efficiency and coherence in the delivery of states’ international commitments, and ultimately it can ensure a more robust implementation of the SDGs for everyone, and according to people’s needs.
SDGs and Human Rights Leading the Way to COVID-19 Response and Recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a magnifying glass, revealing and exacerbating existing patterns of vulnerability, inequality and discrimination at a global scale. The measures taken by governments to address the crisis can further exacerbate inequalities if not carefully implemented. For instance, under lockdown measures some can work or study from home and have access to healthcare in the event of disease, while millions are losing jobs and livelihoods without access to social protection. In addition, the World Food Programme is warning of an emerging 'hunger pandemic'; violence against children and women and girls have been on the rise; and civic space has been restricted.
Human rights standards and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development together provide substantial guidance for immediate crisis response and for long-term recovery strategies towards fair, resilient and sustainable societies that leave no one behind. International human rights mechanisms and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can effectively contribute with guiding these efforts and enhancing the trust and legitimacy that are needed to ‘build back better’.
Leaving no one behind is now, with COVID-19, an even bigger imperative than ever. The uneven impact of the pandemic is showing that efforts to leave no one behind have been insufficient. Attending to the context-specific and/or country-specific lessons from Human Rights mechanisms, as well as working closely together with NHRIs can be an invaluable asset in identifying which are the groups (at risk of) being left behind and in addressing the risk factors. It can also point states’ towards effective solutions that improve SDG monitoring and review, and accelerate SDG implementation in a COVID-19 recovery context.
Find tools, publications and trainings on the interlinkages between SDGs and Human Rights:
SDGs and Human Rights Toolbox (Global Alliance of NHRIs)
SDGs and Human Rights Exhibition Space (Danish Institute for Human Rights)
Monitoring and Reporting
Integrated Review and Reporting on SDGs and Human Rights
The 2030 Agenda emphasizes that its Follow-up and Review (FUR) mechanism must ensure accountability, be inclusive, participatory, transparent, people-centred, gender-sensitive, respect human rights and have a particular focus on the poorest, most vulnerable and those furthest behind. These principles reflect the principles of the human rights-based approach to development, which should guide both the design and the operationalization of FUR mechanisms and global, regional and national levels.
FUR mechanisms are voluntary and country-led, and they do not foresee mechanisms for independent review or provisions of direct recommendations to States. Thus, highlighting how the SDGs are underpinned by international legally binding human rights instruments, which enjoy of institutionalised monitoring bodies, adds a dimension of accountability that is otherwise absent.
While there is no uniform model for national FUR processes, it is clear that the breadth of the 2030 Agenda requires government coordination across a wide range of ministries and institutions to ensure coherence and systematic action. The 2020 Edition of UNDESA’s Handbook for VNR preparation includes several references to integrating SDGs and human rights processes and advises governments to e.g. draw from human rights reports and include National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) as a key stakeholder in the process. There are several tools which can help operationalize such integrated approach in practice and strengthen countries’ monitoring, follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda.
Leveraging human rights monitoring and reporting mechanisms will reduce the reporting burden on states and will contribute to SDG follow-up and review by providing:
• Systematised qualitative analysis and data through institutionalised reporting mechanisms by states, UN bodies, NHRIs, and civil society;
• Identification of specific and systemic implementation challenges, as well as recommendations and guidance to address them adequately;
• Identification of societal groups most at risk of being left behind and concrete measures to abolish discrimination and promote equality, including through legal reforms;
• Best practices on systematic engagement of stakeholders in monitoring, reporting and follow up, guided by the HRBA principles of accountability, transparency and access to information;
• Expertise on developing national monitoring systems that are aligned with global standards, and best practice on peer review mechanisms, expert and thematic reviews.
The Role of National Human Rights Institutions and UN Human Rights Mechanisms in the SDGs
As independent State bodies, NHRIs are directly and indirectly contributing to SDG implementation, monitoring and review by exercising their mandate to protect and promote human rights in their countries. NHRIs monitor and analyse the national human rights situation against international standards. They often prepare annual status reports on the general situation as well as analysis and research on specific human rights topics. In addition, many NHRIs have a strong focus on discrimination and inequalities and they monitor the situation of particular groups of rights-holders and of vulnerable and marginalised groups. I.e. if included in SDG processes, NHRIs can contribute to leaving no one behind in SDG monitoring.
Human rights monitoring mechanisms are also big players in the accountability for the SDGs. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), for example, is a unique peer-review mechanism under the Human Rights Council, which provides periodic reviews of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Other mechanisms include the human rights Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and the Supervisory Bodies of the International Labour Organization (ILO). These are institutionalized mechanisms that monitor countries’ international commitments to human rights and labour standards, many of which specifically connected the 2030 Agenda.
These bodies produce country-specific recommendations and thematic guidance which can directly contribute to SDG FUR processes. Through making actionable recommendations on states’ human rights obligations, human rights bodies are a critical source of guidance for SDG reporting and implementation. Recommendations accepted by states typically triggers an institutional set-up for follow-up at the national level, often coordinated through the so-called National Mechanisms for Reporting and Follow-up (NMRF). The NMRFs are governmental structures responsible for effective reporting, coordination and implementation of human rights obligations and recommendations.
Finally, human rights monitoring bodies build on inclusive multi-stakeholder reporting – including shadow reports by civil society and NHRIs. These mechanisms offer inspiration to overcome the artificial boundaries that separate SDGs and human rights, including for monitoring and reporting purposes, and to improve the SDG FUR processes itself.
Leave No One Behind
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aspires to ensure that no one is left behind through the Sustainable Development Goals. When committing to the Agenda member States recognize the dignity of the individual, in all shapes and forms. Seeking that “no one is left behind” reflects the fundamental human rights principle of non-discrimination. Furthermore, the Agenda endeavours to reach first those who are the furthest behind which means focusing efforts on marginalized and oppressed peoples. In order to ensure that no specific group of persons is left behind, the Agenda states that its follow-up and review processes should be informed by data which is high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable and disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts
It has been established that there are more than 370 million indigenous people in approximately 70 different countries around the world – representing 5% of the global population, indigenous peoples account for 15% of the world’s poorest.1 Whilst indigenous peoples across the globe are highly diverse, with unique cultures, languages, knowledge systems and livelihood practices, a common thread is a shared history of marginalisation, the subsequent undermining of their right to self-determination and a frequent violation of their human rights.
Respecting the rights of indigenous peoples: a due diligence checklist for companies
Operational guidance on how to ensure due diligence when operating in areas where their projects may affect indigenous peoples.
Persons with disabilities
More than 650 million people around the world live with some kind of disability.2 This very large minority are in every region in the world, in every country often live on the margins of society, deprived from some of life’s fundamental experiences such as going to school, a career, a family,
socializing or even voting. A human rights principle of leaving no one behind must incorporate person with disabilities as proposed within the SDG goals and targets.
The rights of persons with disabilities and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
This is a matrix which demonstrates the links between the SDGs and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Human Rights Defenders
According to the Secretary General’s 2020 SDG Progress Report,3 the United Nations reported 357 killings and 30 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists in 47 countries in 2019. This data is linked to reporting on target 16.10, and more specifically, its indicator, 16.10.1. SDG target 16.10 makes an explicit commitment to ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms. Seventeen international and regional human rights treaties and declarations are directly linked to this target, thereby providing a rich source of human rights standards and recommendations to guide implementation of this target and further accountability. The aspirations in target 16.10 related to the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms is no less important now in view of state responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. During this period, there have been reports of illegitimate restrictions and violations to these freedoms under the guise of Covid-19 related measures.
Securing an enabling environment for human rights defenders
This paper focuses specifically on the potential for leveraging human rights standards and mechanisms for furthering the implementation and monitoring of an enabling environment for human rights defenders, primarily under SDG target 16.10, but also under other targets, as relevant.
Tools and Methodologies
The SDGs & Human Rights Toolbox compiles resources (training materials, tools, reports, databases, etc.) from relevant organizations that contributes to the implementation, monitoring and review of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Human Rights Guide to the SDGs allows the user to explore which human rights standards underpin each SDG. It connects individual SDG target to the relevant articles in human rights instruments that are applicable to a specific country.
The SDG – Human Rights Data Explorer is a searchable database that links recommendations from the main Human Rights monitoring mechanisms of the United Nations to the SDGs. It allows users to explore how human rights recommendations for specific countries or groups of rights-holders are linked to the 169 targets contained in the 17 SDGs.
The Indigenous Navigator Tools Database provides a framework and a set of tools to monitor indigenous people’s rights and ensure that they are not left behind.
The Sustainable Development through Human Rights Due Diligence-tool is an inspirational database for companies on how to work efficiently with human rights due diligence while contributing to the realisation of the SDGs.
The SDG / Human Rights Education Monitoring Tool enables National Human Rights Institutions or state parties to monitor the human rights education element of global SDG target 4.7.
This is a practical guide by Amnesty International detailing how stakeholders can get involved in holding states accountable for their SDG commitments, including through a human rights based approach.
Good practices for SDG programming and monitoring: Showcasing contributions from national human rights institutions to achieve the SDGs.
A practical approach to leaving no one behind: Exploring the added value of having a human rights-based approach to SDG data and indicators.
A key to effective, efficient and accountable implementation: Exploring the potential to use human rights recommendations for a human rights-based app.
This report provides guidance to NHRIs and other actors working with a Human Rights-Based Approach in regard to the SDGs and the African 2063 Agenda.
A guide explaining Human rights-based approach in the Voluntary National Review.
A guide mapping and explaining linkages between Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The 2030 Agenda and the ﬁrst 16 Sustainable Development Goals cannot be effectively realised without the Means of Implementation that are detailed in SDG 17.
“The COVID-19 crisis is exposing and exacerbating human rights violations and inequalities with a devastating effect on vulnerable groups and societies”