Making states care for rights – my dream for a world post-2015

Maria Cascant SempereMaria Cascant Sempere

Last May, the UN High Level Panel published its Post-2015 report (pdf). Annexe 1 (p.30-31) presents the 12 goals and 54 indicators that may potentially become the new development agenda. Annexe 1 is also what the Nigerian chapter of the UN Millennium Campaign recently shared with national organisations as part of its consultation initiative.

While doing my PhD fieldwork in Nigeria, I was lucky to be part of the Post-2015 discussions at the NGO hosting me. These included a check on rights and accountability agents suh as states and corporations. In this blog I want to share the idea during those discussions that the new agenda needs to be bolder in holding states and other power holders to account on rights.

Rights and States
States have three rights functions. They must be the main providers of rights (i.e. paying for police, judges, teachers, nurses), refrain from violating rights themselves and prevent rights’ violations from third parties.

In the new Agenda, 2 out of 12 goals monitor governance at state and international levels (goals 10 and 12). This is positive as compared to the current Millenium Developmen Goals (MDGs) which only have a global governance goal (MDG 8). Yet Goal 10 still speaks of states’ obligations timidly. Its indicators ranging from legal identity to freedom of speech[i] cover political and civil rights but leave out social, economic, cultural and environmental ones.

No reference to states is made either in other goals like education, health, food and water. None of the 12 goals covers issues of public investment and budget commitments as agreed by states themselves in UN Conferences. As a result, one is left with the doubt of who the main provider of rights is.

Black Monday image

Black Monday Initiative in Nigeria: every Monday people dress in black to demand accountability on budgets and corruption

Monitoring budgets is vital to make rights real and to avoid having a second unachieved MDG story. This is key not only to country patterns like Nigeria where public investment is scant despite GDP growth but to countries like mine, Spain, where public spending is being drastically cut under the present crisis[ii].

Rights and the Private Sector
The Agenda mentions the private sector’s role in creating growth and investment, but not in respecting rights. Experience shows that growth does not necessarily bring rights. In fact, growth often happens as a result of rights violations. Multinational corporations in particular have forged themselves a reputation on labour, collective and environmental abuses.

The private sector can and should respect rights while contributing to growth and equality, but state and international regulation and monitoring are needed. This also includes some international agencies.

The Need to Monitor Power-Holders to Make Rights Real
Monitoring both rights and obligations is indispensable because one side cannot work without the other if we are to make rights real. For instance:

  • No quality primary education (indicator 3b) and disease reduction (4e) will take place if we do not monitor states following the UNESCO-Fast Track Initiative benchmark (6%-20% of GDP to education) or the Abuja Declaration target (15% of GDP to health) amongst others applicable to each country.
  • No sustainable agriculture and fishing will take place (5d) if we do not monitor those most unsustainable, such as the extractive industries.

We need more indicators overtly monitoring obligations by states and corporations. Those on corruption (Goal 10) and tax evasion (Goal 12) can be read as going in this direction. But we need more, since governance is as much about illegal issues (i.e. corruption) as it is about legal but unethical practices (i.e. unfair budget allocations):

  • Goal 10 should be explicit on monitoring public investment to fulfil rights. This should include political and civil rights as well as social, economic, cultural and environmental rights.
  • Goal 10 should be open on monitoring state rights violations not only of political and civil rights but also of social, economic, cultural and environmental ones.
  • Goal 12 should be clear on the role of corporations (and international agencies) in respecting rights, by monitoring the increase of national and international regulatory efforts on them.

Dreaming 2015?
The Post-2015 Agenda invites us to dream, and so we dream. A dream already present in many Civil Society and UN initiatives such as the Participate and Beyond 2015 consultations with those suffering rights violations, the UN Millennium Campaign state-targeted mobilisations and public financing and corporate accountability projects that identify, name and shame rights violators. A stronger accent on rights and accountability in the new framework can only reinforce more work of this kind on the ground.

In my dream Post-2015, I see a UN that puts in its MDG shop window what it already does in many of its programmes, reports and conferences; a UN that is bold and dreams of a bold world in which people will enjoy rights because those responsible to provide for them will be watched, crystal clear, on the top UN Agenda.


[i] 1) free and universal legal identity such as birth registrations; 2) public’s right to information; 3) freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and independent media; 4) public participation in political processes; and 5) reduction of bribery and corruption.

[ii] The Abuja and Maputo Declarations ask for the 15% and 10% of GDP for health and agriculture while the 2013 Nigerian budget allocates 5.7% and 1.7% respectively. The Spanish government reduced the education and health budgets in 14.4% and 22,6% respectively for 2013 as compared to 2012.

Maria-Josep Cascant Sempere is a PhD candidate within the IDS Participation, Power and Social Change research team. She is interested in development activism with a focus on the links between popular education and economic (tax) justice campaigning in Nigeria and the UK.

Read other blogs by Maria Cascant

2 Responses to Making states care for rights – my dream for a world post-2015

  1. Where did this anti-capitalist nonsense come from? Does the author really believe that “Experience shows that growth does not necessarily bring rights. In fact, growth often happens as a result of rights violations”. I doubt there is any point in discussing this any further. We clearly live in two very different worlds!

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