MENA States at the High-level Political Forum 2020
At this year’s High-level Political Forum (7–16 July), reviewing progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN’s Agenda 2030, four countries in the MENA region presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), among a total of 47 reporting states. HIC-HLRN cooperated with HIC Members and other partners on the VNRs from this region, in addition those of Argentina, Nepal, Peru, Uganda and Zambia.
Amid calls from the human rights community, including HIC, reporting to this year’s HLPF was supposed to apply a “human rights lens.” That integrated planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation approach is precisely what HIC and HLRN have been advocating through the Human Rights Habitat Observatory [AR]. However, as HLRN coordinator Joseph Schechla observed, “that ideal remains an elusive goal not only for the states in the MENA region.”
Presented on 13 July, Morocco’s VNR was exemplary for its organization and detail, also reporting specifically against the SDG Targets and Indicators. It also admitted gaps, projecting that Morocco will not meet he Agenda’s inequality-reduction and decent-employment Goals by 2030, especially for youth and women. Localizing development with a territorial approach, policy coherence, providing reliable statistics and development finance remain among the major development challenges cited.
However, Morocco’s VNR missed an opportunity to credit the country’s recent Goal 1, 5, 10 and 15 progress toward needed rational land governance under recent advice of Morocco’s Economic, Social and Environmental Council. The VNR is silent on Target 5.a: “reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land,”] but cited new steps toward women’s greater access to productive resources under Goal 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” by alleviating customary discrimination.
Based on Morocco’s VNR, HLRN found the national development process presenting yet-unanswered questions:
- How does the kingdom foresee actions to achieve Goal 2 by liberating royal monopolies on basic foodstuffs (sugar, dairy, edible oils, etc.) and publicizing all land holdings, especially toward alleviating the crushing competition against small-scale food producers by large and often-unknown landlords?
- Considering obligations cited in the “Transforming our world” resolution (para.35) and the VNR’s cited Goal 11 housing and infrastructure development outside Morocco’s territorial jurisdiction, how does the kingdom assure these avoid implanting its settlers in occupied territory and ensure that extraction of natural resources there directly benefits the Sahrawi people in cooperation with, and upon approval of its representative body? This question remains especially after Morocco’s notable 2016 admission to funding the serious crime of population transfer with proceeds from its Fisheries Agreement with the European Union.
- In the current light of COVID-19’s lessons, what measures will Morocco adopt toward universal social protection, covering informal economy and ensuring decent work for all in line with Goals 1,2, 3, 5 and 8?
Longer-term, beyond 2030, Morocco’s development impediments seem to derive from government promoting economic growth over benefit distribution and persisting neoliberal policies: privatizing public goods and services, austerity and public-spending cuts, requiring urgent human rights-based policy reform. These could be better addressed through structured national dialogue around the VNR, engaging all relevant stakeholders in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
However, the Moroccan delegation disallowed Major Groups to raise questions about its VNR during the HLPF, permitting only written submissions. However, despite an effort to raise these issues in writing, a lack of consensus with Moroccan civil society actors foreclosed that option also, and no nongovernmental feedback relevant to the Morocco VNR reached the delegation or the forum.
Syria’s participation on 15 July, presented the government report, which was thorough and detailed, making ample reference to human rights treaty obligations, but otherwise had little internal consistency with the 2030 Agenda’s SDGs or the reporting methodology. A Syrian civil society group issued a joint oral intervention through the NGO Major Group, interrogated the methodology of the VNR as presented.
The intervention noted that it was not a bona fide national report, but merely a government report, and did not deal properly with sustainable development nor the government`s responsibility for the ongoing war in the country. Therefore, they observed that it failed to diagnose causes (مولدات الحالة), including the government’s role in triggering and fueling the conflict, squandering the very foundations of development, and instead diverting national development resources to support militarization, identity politics, the war economy, basic injustice and the use of violence as tools to suppress the population. Consequently, they found that the country’s performance diverges from sustainable development, which can happen only with an equitable end of the conflict. The intervention pointed out that these remain key responsibilities of current political authorities, and proffered a different narrative to evaluate Syria’s development in three points, noting:
1. The report evades the political authority’s responsibility for the conflict and de-development, deflecting responsibility to external parties. That is reflected in the VNR’s silence about impediments to development such as those cited above, compelling a broad societal movement against the existing political authority with the goals of freedom and justice.
2. This omission begs the question as to why the government report did not propose changes toward power sharing, a change in the role of the security and military services, or the accountability of perpetrators for violations, or even mention the political process set out in SC resolution 2254.
3. The report also omitted information on conditions outside the areas of Authority control within the geography of Syria.
The intervention was a litany of the Syrian tragedy and called for the VNR’s authors to explain the authority’s responsibility for killing and wounding hundreds of thousands, torture and kidnapping, including civilians, politicizing regional and cultural identities, siege policies, poverty and gross violations of women, militarily targeting the health and educational system, and other gross violations of children`s rights, in addition to the forced displacement that has pushed millions to seek refuge outside their homes and country.
In response, the Syrian delegate dismissed the questions as “political.”
Comoros presented its VNR on 16 July (at 04:00:00), citing progress in reducing the share of the population under the poverty line from 34/3%, in 2013, to 23.5%, in 2019, and infant mortality fell by 50% in the same period. Blue economy, agrobusiness, digitalization, building statistical-measurement capacity, improving all levels of education and providing low-cost renewable energy remain major challenges. In environmental preservation related to Goal 15: “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial
ecosystems,” reforestation in Comoros simultaneously has increased its forest cover fourfold. Comoros also reported the establishment of a National Institute for Human Rights, operationalizing the concept of civil liability legislated in 2018. All are aligned with the current government’s “Plan for Emerging Comoros by 2030.”
The Comoros government and UN Resident Coordinator developed and jointly presented the VNR, without aligning with the SDGs, which were otherwise well referenced in the report; however, civil society participation was not evident in the report or its presentation. The Children and Youth Major Group intervened by reiterating the priorities and challenges presented by the delegation, but emphasizing the need for greater civil society engagement, and asking about plans for funding further progress and remedying traditional behaviors affecting health, such as tobacco consumption. Those questions went unanswered.
Libya’s presentation (at 1:42:30) summarized the efforts to achieve 10 selected SDGs (3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 16 and 17) “to establish a modern state that enjoys sustainable development to build a better future for Libyans.” The delegation emphasized the priorities of peace and stability as prerequisites for such achievement. Meanwhile the situation of insecurity and ongoing conflict impede the realization of all SDGs. The delegation cited, in particular, the related displacement, migration and the growth of slums as impediments to reaching Goal 11.
Libya’s detailed VNR appeared in two parts well after the deadline. Because of its last-minute publication and difficulties coordinating the process domestically, civil society had little chance to engage or respond to the report formally at the HLPF. Nonetheless, the Children and Youth Major Group intervened to point out the country’s triple challenge of the security political crisis, the pandemic and dramatic revenue cuts combined to impede progress, despite the commendable efforts of public servants. The MGOS issued a written intervention calling for greater stakeholder engagement in the reconstruction and development process, greater intergenerational solidarity in the country generally, and asking why Goal 16: did not figure among the reported progress in the VNR. However, those questions remained unanswered except for the delegation’s reference to limited time and capacity to address all 17 Goals in the present report.
To date, 18 states in the MENA region have reported to the HLPF, including those covered in Land Times Nos. 16 and 18.
Photo: Libyan Minister of Planning Taher Jehaimi presenting the VNR of Libya at the HLPF, 16 July 2020. Source: Kiara Worth.