Representatives of the participating NHRIs
28 Mar 2019

NHRIs advocate for human rights-based approach to 2030 Agenda at UNECE Regional Forum on SDGs

For the first time, ENNHRI contributed to the intergovernmental Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region, calling for better integration of binding international human rights within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and showcasing the relevance of NHRIs.

Held from 21 to 22 March in Geneva, the forum was aligned with the theme of the 2019 UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality’. The SDGs in focus this year are: SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), SDG 13 (climate action) and SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

ENNHRI was represented through its Secretariat and member National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) from Albania, Armenia, Denmark, Georgia and Hungary, who played a role in promoting the importance of human rights in the SDGs.

Illustrating benefits of human rights and NHRIs

European NHRI interventions in side meetings, roundtable discussions and the plenary highlighted the potential of human rights for a better implementation of the SDGs and showcased the opportunities SDGs bring for the further realisation of human rights. For example, Giorgi Burjanadze, Deputy Public Defender of Georgia, shared how the NHRI in Georgia uses the SDG framework, in addition to the human rights framework, particularly when no specific human rights convention is in place, such as when dealing with complaints received about environmental issues or addressing the rights of older persons.

Anna Martinez-Zemplen from the Hungarian Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights presented a case study on how the NHRI has provided a useful channel for public participation to enable informed government decisions related to the environment and public health.

Building on existing human rights obligations, representatives of the NHRIs from Albania (Erinda Ballanca) and Armenia (Artyom Sedrakyan) highlighted the monitoring and accountability role they have played in the context of recent public manifestations, a crucial element of the ‘peaceful, just and inclusive societies’ aimed for under SDG 16.

“You cannot talk about standards without talking about institutions that implement them; SDG 16 is the water and soil for SDG flowers to grow.” – Artyom Sedrakyan, Armenia’s Deputy of the Human Rights Defender Institution

Joining forces with key human rights actors

With the initiation of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR), ENNHRI co-organised a side event – ‘Leave no one behind: Driving policies through data and a human rights-based approach’ – together with European human rights actors, including the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Equinet.

Participants highlighted the need for states to further disaggregate data to make vulnerable groups and underlying human rights problems visible. Only then can policies be effective in leaving no one behind.

As shown by ENNHRI’s ongoing study on poverty measurement and reduction, which was mentioned during the event, states have not sufficiently built on the opportunities provided by the SDGs; some groups are currently not represented in government’s poverty measurements, such as homeless persons or Roma. NHRIs can help in this area through the data they gather in the context of their monitoring, investigation and complaints handling mandates, as well as through cooperation with national statistical offices to promote better disaggregation of data.

Birgitte Feiring from the DIHR introduced the audience to DIHR’s new database, which brings together information from the international and European human rights monitoring mechanisms to support a human rights-based approach to the SDGs. The SDGs are connected to UN human rights recommendations per country and per rights-holder group, serving as a useful tool for NHRIs when linking SDGs with their monitoring and reporting work.

Being a part of the SDG conversation

In the closing plenary session, Erinda Ballanca, People’s Advocate of Albania and ENNHRI Board member, spoke about how NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles are not only contributors in the SDG framework, but are also globally recognised as indicators of ‘peaceful, just and inclusive societies’ under SDG 16.
She called on European governments to further deliver on the SDG 16 promise to establish and strengthen NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles. Currently, only 27 out of 47 European states have an A-status NHRI. ENNHRI provides support on the establishment of NHRIs in compliance with the Paris Principles.

Erinda Ballanca stressed the crucial role of NHRIs in holding state governments to account and further generating public awareness about the relevance of the SDGs and human rights in their daily lives. She also encouraged state authorities to engage more closely with NHRIs in National SDG processes, consultation and stakeholder engagement plans, as well as in the preparation and follow-up of Voluntary National Reviews.

While representing an independent NHRI in compliance with the Paris Principles, Erinda Ballanca spoke from the seat of the state government; unlike in UN human rights fora, NHRIs have not been accorded independent participation rights in the UNECE context.

Finally, she expressed her hope for a louder human rights voice in next year’s Regional Forum, stating: ‘together, and in line with existing human rights commitments, we can help make sustainable development a reality across European countries’.

Erinda Ballanca (People's Advocate of Albania, ENNHRI Board member) speaking at closing session of Regional Forum.

The discussions during the forum will lead to an outcome document of the UNECE Chair (Albania) that will be presented at the 2019 High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. Under the umbrella of the Global Alliance of NHRIS (GANHRI), NHRIs from across the world will be represented at the global forum and will speak up for the need to further interconnect the SDGs and human rights and to take proper account of the contributions of NHRIs.

Photo: Participants in the UNECE Regional Forum side event on ‘Linking peace, justice and development through good governance in SDG 16’