HLRN @ HLPF
Characteristically, HLRN and HIC made their presence both inside and outside the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) at UN Headquarters, New York, 11–19 July 2017. HLRN applied the Human Rights Habitat (HRHO) approach in reviewing state SDG progress reports. (See Introducing the Human Rights Habitat Observatory in this issue.) HIC President and Secretariat co-organized a side event with the Global Platform for the Right to the City.
As the Longer-term positioning of the UN Development System promises (paras. 2, 14), states should pursue the 2030 Agenda within the integrated framework of both commitments under that global policy, as well as their human rights obligations. However, neither the indicators adopted for monitoring progress nor the pattern of states’ voluntary national reviews (VNRs) reflect that acclaimed approach.
In preparation for the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) HLRN’s MENA program also was involved in the planning and execution of the CSO Forum on Sustainable Development in the Arab Region, which culminated in a two-day workshop at Beirut on 24–26 April 2018. That gathering of development-related civil society organizations preceded the official government-level Arab Forum for Sustainable Development (AFSD) hosted by the UN Economic and Social Council for Western Asia in Beirut on 24–26 April 2018.
The CSOs Forum is an initiative of Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND) [AR], Habitat International Coalition-Housing and land Rights Network (HIC-HLRN), the Tunis-based Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) [مركز المرأة العربية للتدريب والبحوث], the Arab Trade Union Confederation [الاتحاد العربي لنقابات], the International Disability Alliance/Arab Organization of Persons with Disabilities, and the Arab Network for Development and Environment (RAED) [الشبكة العربية للبيئة والتنمية ح رأئد].
The Forum reviewed the grave challenges and impediments to sustainable development in the MENA region, arising from Israeli colonization of Palestine and subsequent armed conflicts, the region’s burgeoning war economy, environmental destruction, austerity measures, and the economic and social policies negatively affecting individual human and collective people’s rights.
The CSOs asserted the importance of the standing political commitments of the region’s governments to apply their human rights obligations toward achievement of the sustainable human development goals (SDGs). They noted that the further promise of policy cohesion should consider the civil, political and culture rights dimensions as core elements, as well as the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
The Forum participants expressed their disappointment at the state of governance in their region, lacking the participatory approach with citizens sharing effectively in development programs and decisions that align with their own development objectives and processes. In their collective statement diagnosing the present state of development in MENA, the CSOs identified the crisis of governance not only in the national sphere, but also in the global context. They identified external impediments directly eroding people’s sovereignty in defining national policies and priorities within their state. They cited the mechanisms of accountability and equity at all levels as too weak to counter the institutional corruption that prevails in the governments of the region.
The CSO Forum issued a list of 13 main messages [AR] to the governments in the AFSD to be considered in drafting the regional strategy for the implementation of 2030 Agenda. The list prioritized peace and security consistent with international law, services and protection for the refugees migrants workers in host countries. They called for national policies to provide comprehensive social protection based on human rights approach, adopt transparent systems to insure good governance and counter corruption in all spheres of government, addressing the root causes of discrimination against women, strengthening the role of civil society, while respecting its independence as key partner in the development process, respect and protection of natural resources.
(See complete analysis) [AR]
The CSOs Forum also specifically focused on the importance of respecting human rights in localizing the 2030 Agenda for sustainable cities and other human settlements (SDG 11). In a side event during the HLPF, Forum partners promoted policy coherence to harmonize appropriately with other global policies and processes, particularly the SDGs, the New Urban Agenda, Paris Agreement on climate change (FCCC), the Addis Ababa Action Agenda or the principles of the longer-term positioning of the UN Development System.
Inside the HLPF, CSO Forum partners were active in the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders, including NGOs, Women and Children and Youth, contributing to the preparations and real-time dialog on 2030 Agenda implementation by states and their constituent organs. “Of the 47 states reporting to the HLPF this year, Slovakia, Colombia and the State of Palestine came closest to living up to the reporting criteria,” observed HLRN Coordinator Joseph Schechla, HIC’s representative in the NGO Major Group at the 2018 session.
This year, HLRN’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) program played a role in the New York forum by contributing to the critical reviews of all seven VNRs from the region (Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates). That collaboration involved diverse organizations operating across MENA and globally. The combined efforts resulted in consensus statements and questions to all the reporting states of the region. The only exception was in the case of Saudi Arabia. That intervention fell out due to non-agreement of one Saudi Arabian royal-organized non-governmental organization (RONGO), a phenomenon commonly found among the putative civil society structures in the region’s monarchies.
Taken together, the VNRs from the MENA region reflected a common misunderstanding (or rejection) on the part of state delegations of the concepts of sustainable development, partnership with multiple stakeholders as citizens and the integrated approach of reviewing progress against their combined commitments and obligations, including extraterritorial obligations. Rather, delegations seemed content to explain their “development” as wholly material and acquisitive in nature. (See also 1st Arab Land Conference in this issue.) The region’s VNRs and HLPF presentations lacked sufficient attention to the social dimensions and integrated nature of the SDGs.
Outside of this trend, however, was the State of Palestine’s presentation. Despite United States obstruction of Palestine’s role in the HLPF by denying visas for Palestine’s six traveling presenters, Amb. Riyadh Mansour addressed each question from the debate floor, linking also the Palestinian Authority’s SDG performance with its human rights treaty obligations under its ratification of CEDaW [اتفاقية القضاء على جميع أشكال التمييز ضد المرأة] and broad civil society dialogue on the process.
The CSO Forum faces the upcoming 2019 HLPF with a common set of priorities and principled recommendations, as expressed in the collective statement of 2018. Next year’s HLPF will focus on SDGs 4, 8, 10, 13, 16 and 17, while the MENA states presenting their VNRs in 2019 will be Algeria, Israel, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman and Tunisia.