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Human rights in the new development goals

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Ladies and gentlemen, friends of the UN,

I am very pleased to be here on United Nations Day with so many members of the UN family and civil society.

You are all valuable partners in formulating a new and ambitious agenda for sustainable development.

***

  • Human rights.
  • Equality.
  • Good governance.

These are so much more than items on an agenda.

They are the pillars of human dignity, security and prosperity – and the foundations upon which meaningful lives and successful societies rest.

***

One month ago, we observed the world family of nations performing at its best.

Leaders came together at the UN General Assembly to confront major challenges; and agreed to help refugees, stop Ebola and fight the cancer of violent extremism.

We were also able to conclude that most of the goals that were set at the turn of the century have been met.

The proportion of those living in extreme poverty is cut in half.

But in New York we also witnessed the weaknesses of the UN – and of its member states.

We agreed on measures against Ebola – but realised that we should have acted earlier.

We redoubled our efforts to help those who have escaped conflict – but were reminded of the Security Council’s inability to resolve the conflicts they had fled from.

***

Let us be realistic.

Our fast-moving planet is producing prosperity at high speed – but also unexpected threats and challenges.

The multilateral architecture that was built up on the rubble of two devastating world wars has served us well, and continues to do so.

But the problem-solving capacity of our global system is not always able to keep up with the new challenges that are emerging.

In the Middle East, we see terrorists of unprecedented brutality aspiring to statehood.

In Europe, we see an established state attempting to change borders through military means – for the first time since the Second World War.

In West Africa, the human tragedy of Ebola will have serious economic consequences – and may affect our security.

***

Hundreds of millions have lifted themselves out of poverty the last two decades, but conflicts keep arising because growth is uneven.

Too many nations are lagging behind due to human rights abuses, poor governance and lack of equal opportunities.

We must improve our collective ability to read new landscapes – and fine-tune our tools for predicting crises.

We must look for the warning lights – and respond to them.

A worsening human rights situation is often a telling sign of an impending crisis.

Look at South Sudan.

Look at Syria.

If we detect such signs – we can prevent armed conflict and mass atrocities.

We know that where there is conflict, human rights come under pressure.

We must also realise that this works both ways.

In societies where human rights are under pressure, trouble is bound to be brewing.

Governments that fail to protect human rights, offer equal opportunities and build open and inclusive societies, may secure their own power in the short-run, but they sow the seeds of conflict –and harvest their own demise in the end.

***

Human rights and good governance are the building blocks for sustainable development and inclusive growth.

Active and determined NGOs play a vital role in correcting bad policies – and converting poor governance into good governance.

Good governance requires information from below about how policies actually work – not disinformation from above.

Pressure from civil society should be welcomed by any government.

***

Calls for protection of human rights are resounding across the world.

Together we must respond more effectively to these calls.

This is why human rights should be at the heart of the new sustainable development goals that the General Assembly will adopt in September next year.

The UN must be more confident, coherent and assertive about its human rights pillar.

It must integrate human rights across the board:

It must multiply the impact of the High Commissioner’s limited resources.

The UN’s human rights pillar is chronically underfunded. We must change that.

***

Despite our efforts, human rights are increasingly under pressure.

Journalists are being harassed and silenced.

Religious minorities are suffering violence and discrimination.

Because of their beliefs.

Sexual minorities are under attack.

Because of who they are.

New laws are being enacted that restrict freedom of expression and the work of civil society.

Basic rights are being abused in blatant disregard of basic obligations under international law– to the detriment of good governance, equal opportunities and inclusive growth.

To the detriment of blossoming individuals – and to blossoming societies and economies.

***

In the time ahead, we will work with other likeminded nations to shape a less fragmented and more efficient UN.

We want a UN “fit for purpose”, prepared to deal with 21st century challenges.

Designing an effective agenda for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals is absolutely critical in this endeavour.

We need goals that are both achievable and ambitious.

These goals must be comprehensive – and we must be able to communicate them.

For the sake of accountability, we must be able to measure them.

The new targets must go beyond the Millennium Development Goals, integrating all dimensions of development, including democratic governance, human rights and the rule of law.

***

More than anything, we need goals that can mobilise action against poverty.

Our overall aim must be to eradicate all extreme poverty and hunger 2030.

It is ambitious – but possible.

Extreme poverty represents the most dramatic inequality – within and among nations.

Poverty prevents people from living meaningful lives and caring for their families.

It leads to crime, migration, extremism, conflicts and threats – conflicts and threats that easily cross borders in our globalised world.

To start with, governments must pursue inclusive and sustainable economic growth – with a clear focus on job creation and the private sector.

Governments must aim for equality in opportunities for all – including the poor and marginalised, people with disabilities and indigenous peoples.

***

We would like to see good governance highlighted in a headline goal.

This should include the rule of law, democratic participation at all levels, a market economy, opportunities for private investments, and measures to prevent and address corruption.

This will help us mobilise efforts to build institutional capacity and promote transparency and accountability in developing nations.

The Millennium Goals did not give sufficient attention to human rights.

We now have the opportunity to fix this.

As Kofi Annan once said:

“We will not enjoy security without development, we will not enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”

Strengthening human rights – and good governance – is the best way we can contribute to human dignity, equal opportunities and inclusive growth.

The UN’s lead in fighting poverty not only reflects the multitude of tasks that this organisation is entrusted with, it also highlights the way in which our most urgent tasks are intertwined:

Peace. Security. Public health. Prosperity and wealth. Education. Equal opportunities. Good governance. Human rights.

Input from civil society will help us in our endeavour to update the ability of the UN and its member states to address the challenges of an increasingly interconnected world.

***

The UN has just turned 69 – but is far from retirement.

We look to the UN to promote development and human rights.

We look to the UN Security Council for effective mandates for peace operations.

We look to UN agencies to respond to emergencies, whether caused by Ebola or extremism.

If the tools at our disposal are imperfect, we should perfect them, not dispose of them.

I wish you all a happy and productive UN Day.

 

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