The SDGs & Human Rights

How can human rights remain central in SDG implementation?

Inhabitants of Bahia Solano, Quibdó, Colombia. Credit: EFE



What are the ways in which efforts to achieve SDG targets can strengthen the protection and fulfilment of human rights? What are the risks? How should human rights groups use the SDGs, if at all, and if they do so what strategies are proving successful?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed unanimously by UN Member States in 2015. They are a set of 17 goals, each with numerous and specific targets, all to be met by 2030. The SDGs range from a commitment to ending extreme poverty, to providing education for all, to tackling climate change, to achieving gender equality and to building a strong judicial sector. The goals apply to all UN Member States.

The SDGs replaced the earlier Millennium Development Goals (MDGs - agreed in 2000), which were narrower in scope and directed mainly at developing countries. The MDGs were criticized by human rights groups for omitting mention of numerous existing human rights obligations of governments, and for the manner in which the targets they did set were de-linked from relevant international human rights standards. The SDGs are more ambitious, more clearly linked to human rights standards, and their universal scope ensures all governments carry responsibilities to ending poverty and inequality.

Yet, the SDGs, like their predecessors, remain political commitments, with weak systems to monitor countries’ progress to meeting them, and no real accountability if they fail to do so. Nevertheless, like the MDGs, they are likely to impact heavily – at least at the international level – on the agenda of anti-poverty and sustainability efforts.

How to ensure, therefore, that human rights are central in SDG implementation? What are the ways in which efforts to achieve SDG targets can strengthen the protection and fulfilment of human rights? What are the risks? How should human rights groups use the SDGs, if at all, and if they do so what strategies are proving successful?

These and other questions lie at the heart of OGR’s ongoing forum on the SDGs.   



UN human rights mechanisms proving effective SDGs monitor

July 4, 2019
By: Steven L. B. Jensen
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The SDGs are mostly aligned with human rights objectives—to emphasize this, the UN human rights mechanisms ...

Silencing the drama - Do the SDG indicators expose the injustices that limit women’s sexual and reproductive lives?

March 27, 2019
By: Alicia Ely Yamin

The SDGs are a step forward for women’s equality and sexual and reproductive rights, but the indicators ...

Inaction on gender equality puts SDGs at risk

March 7, 2019
By: Marte Hellema & Hannie Meesters

If there is no fundamental and transformational change in how gender equality is addressed as part of ...

New and inclusive measuring needed for SDG promise of access to justice for all

February 5, 2019
By: Sukti Dhital & Meg Satterthwaite
Español | Français

SDG 16 promises access to justice for all, but current plans for measuring progress are far too limited. ...

Crucial year ahead to pursue access to justice for all

January 31, 2019
By: Elizabeth Andersen

Several key events in 2019 provide a real opportunity to progress on SDG 16—ensuring access to justice ...

Could “hope and aspirations” end the vicious cycle of poverty?

September 11, 2018
By: Keetie Roelen

Non-invasive and non-punitive interventions that draw on positive emotions have promising potential ...

The SDGs and gender equality: empty promises or beacon of hope?

April 25, 2018
By: Kate Donald  & Silke Staab
Français | Español

In a challenging global context for equality and women’s rights, a new UN Women report illustrates how ...

Breaking the human rights gridlock by embracing the Sustainable Development Goals

April 17, 2018
By: Ted Piccone
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The dangers of a growing global divergence on human rights, with the rise of authoritarian powers, might ...

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as a weapon against populism

May 1, 2017
By: Martin S. Edwards & Lis Kabashi

The Sustainable Development Goals could give activists the rhetoric they need to hold the Trump administration ...

Tackling inequality: the potential of the Sustainable Development Goals

March 2, 2017
By: Kate Donald 

Sustainable Development Goal 10 on reducing inequality will require profound changes to “business-as-usual” ...

Two forums, two approaches to advancing the SDGs and human rights

September 13, 2016
By: Savio Carvalho

Recent global assemblies make it clear—to achieve the SDGs we need to find ways to hold governments, ...

To implement Agenda 2030 in Africa, people must be at the centre

August 3, 2016
By: Charles Kojo Vandyck  & Maame Darkwaa Twum Barima

Increasing threats to citizens’ freedoms will derail the sustainable development goals.

Tackling inequality as injustice: four challenges for the human rights agenda

March 30, 2016
By: Gaby Oré Aguilar & Ignacio Saiz
Español | Français

Human rights can help confront economic inequality, but four conceptual, normative, strategic and methodological ...

Will SDGs lofty ambition undermine advocacy to achieve them?

September 25, 2015
By: Charles F. Maccormack & Sarah Stroup

The SDGs are certainly more comprehensive, and inclusive of human rights concerns and all relevant actors, ...

Winning a place for human rights in the new sustainable development agenda

September 24, 2015
By: Kate Donald 
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Though far from perfect, the new Sustainable Development Goals include important human rights commitments ...

Eliminating female genital mutilation by 2030

April 16, 2015
By: Nafissatou J. Diop
Français | العربية

The UN’s proposed new development goals include a target to end harmful traditional practices like FGM ...

Ebola, human rights, and poverty – making the links

October 23, 2014
By: Alicia Ely Yamin

The Ebola crisis shows the necessity of a human rights approach to public health that focuses on discrimination ...

Development and human rights – a plea for a more critical embrace

October 17, 2014
By: V. Nagaraj

The human rights framework provides an inadequate tool for understanding the deeper processes of development, ...

Transforming the development agenda requires more, not less, attention to human rights

September 15, 2014
By: Radhika Balakrishnan & Ignacio Saiz

The UN General Assembly later this month will begin negotiations over the content of the Sustainable ...