Monday, April 18, 2016
by Risa E. Kaufman, Executive Director, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and lecturer-in-law Columbia Law School
How can the United States truly universalize the new global anti-poverty agenda, and ensure its impact at home? With its pledge to “leave no one behind” and its grounding in human rights, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agendaoffers important opportunities for U.S. human rights advocates to deepen their work and measure progress on profound economic, social, and environmental challenges within the United States. The Agenda provides the United States government, too, with a significant opportunity to address issues of equality and poverty in the U.S., through the lens of human rights. This week, a group of human rights NGOs urged five principles to guide the U.S. government’s plan for domestic implementation, follow up, and review of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
- Human Rights Integration
In a significant improvement over the Millennium Development Goals, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are grounded in human rights, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties. Human rights should thus form a basis for the U.S. government’s understanding of its SDG commitments and guide its overall implementation, follow up, and review of the Goals. In doing so, the United States can draw on resources developed by the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Furthermore, in developing national level indicators for measuring progress on the SDGs, the United States should take into consideration the recent recommendations it has received from the human rights treaty bodies, the UN special procedures, the Universal Periodic Review, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. By using these human rights recommendations as a basis for creating national indicators, the United States can measure its progress towards addressing recognized domestic human rights concerns.
- Participation and Transparency
The 2030 Agenda makes clear that implementation of the SDGs should be based on the principles of participation, inclusion, and transparency. Civil society should play a crucial role in a follow up and review process that is “open, inclusive, participatory and transparent for all people.”
To operationalize the principles of participation and transparency, the U.S. should engage in robust and meaningful consultation with civil society to both develop national indicators for the SDGs and the national process for reporting and review. And it should offer a strong role for civil society in data collection and in the reporting and review process itself. As in the treaty review and UPR processes, the United States should offer a formal role for civil society to offer perspectives on whether and how the U.S. is making progress in achieving the SDGs by providing ample space for civil society to present data, including citizen-generated and qualitative data, for consideration during the national reporting and review cycle.
- Non-discrimination and disaggregated data
To adhere to the SDG’s mandate to “leave no one behind,” and to assess gaps in implementation, the United States should ensure that national indicators call for the collection of disaggregated data. National indicators should call for data to be disaggregated according to gender, race, income, ethnicity, national origin, disability, age, and by urban, rural, metro areas, as well as other factors linked to inequality and rights violations.
- Subnational outreach and implementation
The SDGs are meant to be implemented at every level of government, including the subnational level. Goal 11 calls for inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable cities. As with the human rights treaties, state and local governments are essential partners in implementation of the SDGs. Cities such as Baltimore and New York have already taken up the mantle. The federal government can further these efforts and encourage others by engaging in education and outreach to state and local officials about the U.S.’ commitments under the SDGs, and engaging state and local officials in national and local indicator formation, as well as reporting and review.
- Private sector engagement
The 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda recognizes the role of the private sector in implementation of the SDGs.Core to its implementation of the SDGs, the United States should seek to measure whether and how private companies conduct themselves consistent with their human rights responsibilities, including as articulated by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The United States should incorporate a regular review of the sustainable development impacts of large businesses into its national reporting and review process, including an assessment of the impact of U.S. companies within the United States.
By modeling participation and transparency, ensuring the collection of disaggregated data, engaging in strong outreach to and engagement with state and local officials and the private sector, and integrating human rights principles into every aspect of implementation, the United States can offer a global model for implementation of the SDGs, and ensure that a universal anti-poverty agenda tackles the pressing problems of poverty and inequality at home.