MENA Countries Report on SDGs
While the UN Human Rights Treaty System undergoes a funding crisis, the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) is drawing the UN’s undivided attention in New York to review progress on Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year, the HLPF session (9–19 July 2019) convenes in New York to review the performance of 49 states’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs).
As in 2018, seven Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries have come forward to report at the 2019 session, while the current focus concentrates on Goals:
4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all;
8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all;
10. Reduce inequality within and among countries;
13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts;
16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and
17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
As a partner of the NGO Major Groups and Stakeholders, HIC is providing input on each of this year’s reporting MENA countries, which include Algeria, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman and Tunisia. HLRN, the human rights-specialized HIC structure, is reviewing performance against all of the SDGs, focusing especially on 8, 10, 16 and 17 for their relevance to combatting violations of workers human rights, institutionalized discrimination and the over-riding human rights implementation principle of international cooperation.
Freedom of association remains a key issue in Algeria. AS the International Labour Organisation (ILO) celebrated its 100th anniversary in June, its Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) continued to review the “unchanging situation regarding the particularly long delays and unjustified refusals of new applications for union registration” in Algeria. The Algerian VNR’s silence on this impediment to worker livelihoods casts doubt on its report of SDG8 progress.
Israel’s VNR is an exhaustive 430-page narration of policy development that shrouds the institutionalized material discrimination practiced against the indigenous Palestinian people, its continuing displacement and dispossession that form Israel’s raison d’état.
Kuwait’s VNR claims to ensure inclusiveness and equality (p. 9), yet CESCR notes that Kuwait’s constitutional guarantees of nondiscrimination are conditioned on race, origin, language and religion. The VNR does not address the status of the so-called Bidun, whom Kuwait continues to classify as illegal residents, making the majority stateless and denying many Bidun children’s right to access public schools.
While Kuwait’s VNR notes SDG 8 progress in acknowledging migrant worker rights, its annex cites ILO findings of far more areas of concern over Kuwait’s treatment of migrant workers than achievements. CESCR has found persistent violations, including low wages, retention of salaries, long hours, inadequate housing and barriers to changing or leaving jobs, and has called for greater protection against the abuse, assault and exploitation of migrant workers, particularly domestic workers.
Tunisia’s VNR provides ample examples of its processes through consultation across a wide spectrum of society, including workers’ organizations, women, youth and NGOs.
As the VNR cites, Tunisia remains an exceptional case in the MENA region, notably as the only country permitting civil marriage and divorce, as an effective measure toward SDGs 10 and 16. Moreover, the tripartite Social Contract signed in 2013 reflects concrete measures to realize SDG 8 within Tunisia’s current five-year plan, including steps toward a social-protection floor. The 2019 “AHMINI program” integrating coverage for rural women is encouraging, but apparently too recent to yield reportable outcomes.
Despite the progress toward the Goals, a question remains about the disposition of Tunisia’s ambitious post-revolution transitional justice processes. The VNR does not mention these initiatives, raising the opportunity for the delegation to elaborate on their fate.
The slow development of local spheres of government remain a preoccupation, and we would like to know how regional and local authorities perceive and implement their treaty obligations as organs of the state, especially related to economic, social and cultural human rights.
At the time of this writing, a group of NGOs are consulting on the reviews of Iraq, Mauritania and Oman for inputs to the HLPF. The next issue of Land Times/أحوالالأرضwill report on those processes and other outcomes of this year’s HLPF.