Global partnership for development under a human rights lens (June 2014)

Rethinking Bretton Woods | Thu, Jun 12, 2014



A new article by RBW Project Director Aldo Caliari, appeared on Journal of Human Development and Capabilities (Volume 15, Issue 2-3, 2014), analyzes Millennium Development Goal 8: A Global Partnership for Development, from a human rights perspective.


In a new article “Analysis of the Millennium Development Goal 8: A Global Partnership for Development,” RBW Director Aldo Caliari analyzes the impacts of the indicators and targets of MDG 8 on the realization of economic and social rights. He asserts that MDG 8 was neutral to human rights principles, and in some cases influenced the policy-making environment in a way that was detrimental for international cooperation on human rights.



The MDGs were originally created by donor agencies to revive interest of Western countries in development cooperation. MDG 8 specifically was first mentioned in the “We the Peoples” document, which was to serve as the basis for the Millennium Declaration. However, MDG 8 was not approved and did not include targets or indicators until the “Roadmap” for achievement of the MDGs was created.



It is important when analyzing MDG 8 to examine international cooperation on human rights. The responsibility of states to cooperate internationally on human rights is mentioned repeatedly in international human rights law, including in the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the Declaration on the Right to Development. However, what these responsibilities entail is unclear. Ultimately, MDG 8 did not contribute to spelling out the legally binding obligations of cooperation by rich countries on human rights, as no MDG was binding and governments were unwilling to make any additional commitments.



In general, Caliari finds that MDG 8 inspired little progress towards realization of economic and social rights. For one, accountability for the extraterritorial impacts of development policies was not adequately addressed. The targets were vague, and made it difficult to hold actors accountable; for example, there were no numbers involved in the targets or indicators besides the inclusion of a “zero” duties and quotas on exports policy for LDCs. With no specific or concrete steps to measure progress, any policies seen as increasing ODA or decreasing debt were viewed as improvements without regard to their advancement of human rights.



Secondly, it shifted focus away from encouraging participation in economic development policies, especially by those affected and vulnerable to them. There were no incentives for wider participation in the ODA target, and the debt indicators were centered on exclusionary initiatives and organizations. Two of the three debt-related indicators were related to the HIPC Initiative, which was headed by the G8 and took into account the “sustainability of debt” studies designed by the IMF and World Bank Board of Directors. Additionally, any action towards cancelling illegal debt did not apply, as debt was assumed to be legitimate. Policies were especially counterproductive in regards to trade negotiations, as countries often fail to predict many implications and effects for human rights of trade rules beforehand but almost never revisit the agreed rules. There is also no mechanism to assess trade agreements from a human rights perspective.



Furthermore, the interpretation of “maximum available resources to be used by states for human rights” in MDG 8 was not compatible with that of the CESCR. According to the CESCR, maximum resources include resources within the State and from the international community, and states must prove that their resources are constrained if they do not adhere to their human rights obligations. MDG 8 focused narrowly on aid, debt relief, and trade, leaving out important areas such as tax matters and financial regulation where rich countries could provide support. Debt indicators also focused mainly on HIPC countries, and limited the capabilities of other indicators and targets to receive resources.



Even if MDG 8 targets were met, there is no guarantee that human rights would be furthered. MDG 8 was largely indifferent to human rights, and was a means thrown among the ends, with some arguing that including “means” in the framework was a mistake: it is difficult to agree on common “means”, and countries should not be limited to certain approaches due to the complex social, economic, and political differences among them. Including MDG 8 meant it was seen as equally important and desirable as the other 7 goals, which had a negative effect on human rights: the opportunity to frame global economic and social issues lost as human rights issues was lost, and it allowed for policies that ultimately negatively affected human rights.



The specific targets were not, either, optimally supportive of economic and social rights. In the case of ODA, while the amount of money allocated increased, there was no information on whether or not the programs’ funding complied with human rights obligations. There were two exceptions: the percentage of money going to basic social services increased, as well as the percentage of untied aid. However, increased ODA for basic social services may further aid dependence and untied aid does not directly correlate to higher respect of human rights.



The focus of debt-related targets and indicators severely limited the support of economic and social rights. They prioritized debt servicing over realization of rights, and the costs to creditors over the needs of countries and the fulfillment of MDGs. Despite the victory of establishing a link at the Monterrey Consensus between debt relief and the MDGs, the IMF and World Bank’s Debt Sustainability Framework developed in response left room for major funding gaps in indebted countries. The DSF projected indebted countries taking more grant money instead of loans in order to maintain “sustainable” debt; should grant financing not be available, these countries have no alternative for receiving funding. This framework may further degrade capacities of developing countries to fund projects for the achievement of the MDGs and other human rights obligations, which were already underfunded. Under this framework, debt indicators could look very positive while economic and social rights are ignored. Moreover, the HIPC Initiative’s debt reduction comes with conditionalities strikingly similar to structural adjustment programs, which are known for undermining human rights obligations.



Caliari argues that trade indicators, measuring progress towards market access and fewer subsidies, did not address or make effort to further respect of economic and social rights. Non-discrimination in trade is not compatible with the same concept in international human rights law.



He suggests several alternative criteria for future development goals. First, means should be included, but not at the same level as ends. One possibility is to have “enabling environment indicators” as a way to measure implementation. Second, all indicators should be written from a human rights perspective. Third, participation indicators should be strengthened: it is necessary to have input from those affected by and vulnerable to potential policies. Lastly, there should be holistic coverage of resource constraints, examining what resources are being allocated for human rights and what are not.



Full article is available here.