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Human Rights Sub-Commission needs to find its voice on the Millennium Development Goals

27 July 2003

The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights needs to speak out on how human rights are essential to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The rights of minorities and indigenous peoples should be a central focus of this work, as respecting these rights can contribute greatly to fulfilling the MDGs effectively and equitably. While the Millennium Project set up by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, together with bodies such as the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Special Rapporteurs have pledged to cooperate to help to achieve the goals, the Sub-Commission has so far failed to fulfil its potentially valuable role in this respect.

In a statement submitted to the Sub-Commission taking place in Geneva until 15 August, Minority Rights Group International encourages the Sub-Commission to examine the MDGs in more detail from a human rights perspective with a view to supporting states in their efforts make these goals a reality for all. Minorities and indigenous peoples are often the poorest of the poor and yet, due to factors including insufficient participation and consultation, failure to understand their specific circumstances, and lack of disaggregated data, they may not be amongst those expected to be lifted from extreme poverty by 2015. According to MRG, while attention to the needs of these groups can help to achieve the goals, states and development actors need more guidance in regard to the problems of minorities and indigenous peoples, the outcomes sought, and the processes required. Important indicators have been selected to measure progress towards MDGs, however these do not include data on minorities and indigenous peoples. Without such guidance minorities and indigenous peoples may remain neglected.

In July the UN Development Programme (UNDP) released its Human Development Report 2003 highlighting ‘patchy’ progress by some states on MDGs, matched by backsliding of conditions in many of the world’s poorest nations. Far from achieving the eight goals by 2015 as was demanded by the international community at the UN Millennium Assembly, the trends identified by the UNDP report indicate that some will not defeat poverty until 2165. In its statement, MRG points to the key impact of discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples as a barrier against provision of decent health care, housing, education, financial credit, or political participation. Many Afro-descendants in Latin America, for example, face severe discrimination in addition to lack of birth registration and identity documents, which limits their access to social assistance and to formal sector employment. An important first step is to identify and recognize minorities and indigenous peoples as such, who often suffer from distinct circumstances and conditions of poverty.

In its conclusions, MRG suggests that the Sub-Commission elaborate specific recommendations to states on how to ensure that the MDGs are achieved in a manner that is compatible with human rights standards. Special attention in any such recommendations must be paid to marginalized groups, including minorities and indigenous peoples. MRG believe that such information would be welcomed by other bodies within the UN, including the UNDP and the Millennium Project, to support their work on achieving the goals. Bilateral development agencies that have given high priority to the MDGs would also benefit from these recommendations, which would in turn strengthen the existing commitment within many development agencies to promote human rights in development cooperation.

The work of the Sub-Commission can help to ensure that the MDGs become an opportunity for reducing inequalities rather than increasing exclusion.

The full text of MRG’s statement is available in the ‘advocacy statements’ section of this website.