The two concepts of human rights and sustainable development are interconnected. Every person should be provided with the fundamental rights that include a healthy and safe environment. Right to life is the basic human right that, in turn, comprises an adequate standard of living and healthy environment. Human Rights forms an intrinsic part of sustainable development. Utilizing the natural resources, eradicating poverty, providing a healthy environment, providing clean water and sanitation etc. are some of the common objectives of both human rights and sustainable development. In my article, I will cover how human rights and sustainable development concerns go hand in hand, and their achievement would ultimately cover both the goals. The adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015 by the United Nation General Assembly, pledges the social, economic and environmental developments. These goals are for the better tomorrow. Therefore, this would serve a better, healthy and progressed future for human. Thus, my article would cover all such specific common goals of human rights and sustainable development.
Human rights are the fundamental rights that belong to every human in the world right. It provides the basic rights that are based on a life that is justifiable for a person with values like equality, dignity, honour, freedom, an adequate living etc. For a human to live a life, it is equally essential that the social, economic and environmental well-being are also provided. The United Nations describes these as “the rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.”[i]
The evolution for the recognition of the Human Rights was formulated firstly by the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Further, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nation General Assembly. These rights were non-binding. The UDHR urged the member states to recognize, promote and protect the civil, economic and social rights of every human. In 1976, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) were adopted by the United Nations, between them making the rights contained in the UDHR binding on all states[ii] to protect the civil, political and economic rights.
Further, in 2006, the Human Rights Council was formed by the General Assembly to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights to make a body directed for human rights. Every United Nation body has a crucial role in promoting and protecting human rights. For example- UN Food and Agriculture Organization, International Labour Organization, etc.[iii]
Sustainable development focuses on stabilizing the future with the development in the two most important sectors of the world that are environment and economy. An important principle of sustainable development covering all others is the inclusion of environmental, social, and economic issues into decision making. Many people presume that sustainable development has something to do with environmental matters only, but it is a connection with economic matters and conservation of resources together. Sustainable development focuses on intergenerational equity.
The concept of safeguarding resources for future generations is distinguishable from the environmental policy, which also pursues to internalize the factors of environmental degradation. The primary goal of sustainable development (SD) is the long-term stability of the economy and environment.[iv] This is attainable through the integration and recognition of economic, environmental, and social concerns throughout the resolution-making. Sustainable development requires the unification of economic, environmental, and social in every sector, region and generation. Thus, sustainable development requires the eradication of environmental, social, and economic issues to attain sustainable development.
In 1987, the Bruntland Commission published its report, Our Common Future, to link the issues of economic development and environmental stability.[v] The Common Future Report[vi] gave its definition to sustainable development as- “Humanity can make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”[vii] The report stated that the meeting the needs of people should be a focus for every nation in achieving economic growth but also even the poor should have an equal and fair share in the resources for meeting that growth. The population growth is rising, and the natural resources available is decreasing but meeting the economic goal is also a paramount concern. Therefore, only sustainable development has the potential to bring harmony in both the needs of the economy and interests of the environment.
Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights
Human rights is a broader concept which includes requisites essential for sustainable development. It is impossible to achieve sustainable development without human rights. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals aims an inclusive economy and societies wherein no one is left out, and the government become accountable to promote opportunities for all. The Declaration on the Right to Development emphasizes the right of all individuals and peoples to free, active and meaningful participation.[viii] And the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) set out the duty of States and private companies to ensure that business activities do not abuse people’s rights.[ix]
All the social, cultural, political, environmental, civil and developmental rights are depended on each other and work together. The freedom of speech and expression will be of no use if the necessities of food, education or adequate shelter are not there. Also, if sustainable life is provided and there lies no rights and freedoms, then such living would be useless. A developed and progressed societies exist wherein people have access to basic social support, and economic resources and opportunities. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 Agenda are a transformative development structure as it targets human rights. Over 90 per cent of the goals and targets of the SDGs correspond to human rights obligations.[x] As the Member States make progress on the SDGs, they make progress on their human rights obligations “they are two sides of the same coin.”[xi]
Similarities between Sustainable Developmental Goals and Human Rights
Both concepts aim to provide gender quality and equal opportunities to all men and women. Sustainable development ensures inclusive and equitable quality education. It promotes life-long learning opportunities for all[xii] Human Rights focuses on free and compulsory education for all as one of the essential rights to all. Improving economic growth of the world is a primary target of SDG 2030 whereas protection of child labour, equal opportunities for women in employment and right to just and favourable conditions are focused upon under UDHR, ILO and CEDAW.
Water management and sanitation is also a crucial concern of both SDG and ICESCR. SDG focuses on climate change, conserving coastal life, marine resources and protecting biodiversity, whereas Human Rights aims to protect natural resources and safe health. SDG promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.[xiii] Right to life, liberty and security of the person, Protection of children from all forms of violence, abuse or exploitation including trafficking and right to access to justice and due process in Human Rights conventions. Therefore, both concepts have similar goals and aim to promote the welfare of humankind and adequate life.
Poverty Reduction and Human Rights
Poverty can be seen as a significant problem in most of the Developing and Under-Developed Countries. Poverty Reduction finds its place on the top spot when we see the Sustainable Development Goals, and thus it should be very strategically dealt with by the Human Right Laws. Mary Robinson, a former High Commissioner for Human Rights, has also described poverty as the “worst human rights problem faced today”. Still, the lack of attention has been given to Poverty reduction. Even though all the efforts which Local and International NGOs are showing towards the poverty reduction but lack of such knowledge and attention on the part of large International Bodies has resulted into a fragile link between Human Rights and Poverty Reduction.
While dealing with Poverty through Human Rights, there has been a different line of arguments, one is the neoliberal agenda, but it does not suit the present challenges in this sector. Another one is to adopt a normative approach to deal with the problem of poverty. This approach talks about that Poverty reduction should be the moral obligation of everyone. Still, when we talk about moral obligation or morality, they are very subjective and not only they vary from place to place but also cannot be imposed on anyone considering their non-binding nature. Hence, this approach has also been non-effective to deal with poverty.
The third line of argument talks about how Human Rights efforts work in dealing with poverty while basing their research on case studies. The non-effectiveness of all these lines of arguments has majorly contributed to the weak link between Human Rights and Poverty reduction as discussed. This problem can be encountered by doing a large scale analytical research and to collect data from each and everywhere and not to leave a void at any place. In a report to the Human Rights Council in 2017, Philip Alston came up with the new idea of dealing this problem through Human Rights by bringing in a concept of ‘The Universal Basic Income’.
According to Philp Alston, the issue which persists in the society are the: unstable nature of employment and difficulties in regulating the Labour Market. This humongous inequality exists in society. According to him, these problems can be dealt by ‘The Universal Basic Income’ as it would formulate a specific entitlement which would be payable to all regardless to the age, wealth, gender and Income of course. From the above points, it can be said that the problem of weak linkages of Human Rights and Poverty Reduction can be dealt with the experimentation of analytical data, and there should be evidence-based work.
After concluding all my remarks on both the concepts, it has to be understood that these two are made for providing a dignified life to people. Human Rights are inherent rights. As a body is nothing without the same soul way, a human being is regardless without human rights. While Sustainable Development provides a better life, an adequate living and a safer future for our generations. Every human in this world should be provided with their civil, political, economic and environmental Protection. When Sustainable Development is achieved along with the human rights to every citizen of this world, then it would provide a balance between humankind and the environment.
Frequently Asked Questions
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- How is Poverty Reduction an important subject of both Human Rights and Sustainable Development?
[vi] Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future