Non-Discrimination and Equality under the Human Rights Law

The United Nations Millennium Summit that took place in the year 2000 was a remarkable event. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted during the following summit. The Millennium Development Goals are aimed at creating a novel world where equality and solidarity will govern any relations. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that have emerged as a practical and measurable representation of the declaration have gained much interest and support from the governments, the global development community, and other shareholders. It should be noted that there has been admirable progress in many areas. For instance, access to safe drinking water has been achieved five years ahead of the scheduled time, thus resulting in a decline in the poverty rates and the number of the absolute poor.

The MDGs have failed to integrate all the principles that have been outlined in the Millennium Declarations, including the human rights principle of equality and non-discrimination, despite a plenty of the progresses achieved. The MDGs pay greater attention to the national and global averages and progress that can mask much growing disparities or even slower progress at the sub-national level, as well as among specific populations. This could result in the growing progress towards some targets that become easier to realize when there are certain resources available The MDGs may have inadvertently discovered that some resources are diverted from the poorest or disadvantaged population groups due to the benefits of residence, disability, gender, or ethnic discrimination.

There has been relevant evidence on how the combination of these factors has resulted in uneven progress towards the achievement of the MDGs based on the available disaggregated data from wealth, sex, and residence. It was revealed that young children in the poorest households are two to three times more likely to be malnourished or to die, compared with the young children in the best-off strata. However, malnourishment has been the major cause of stunted growth in the first one thousand days of life. This can result in a lifelong impaired physical and cognitive functionality. Based on the empirical ground, it is difficult to judge the degree at which the MDG enterprise has helped to eradicate or reduce poverty; although there has been significant research on the subject. It should be noted that some countries have claimed that the goals have had a relevant impact on their spending priorities. According to the 2005 MDG status report on Kenya, there was a significant increase in government’s funding for the MDG-related programmes. In terms of development issues, the MDGs appear to have raised the profile that has been created. However, it is unclear how the progress achieved so far can be attributed to the goals.

It is revealed that economic growth for the eradication of income poverty and social sector investments are very significant priorities in most of the poverty alleviation strategies. So far, in Africa, mobilization seems to have a modest impact on the achievement of the goals. According to the indicators and targets of the MDGs, gender inequalities still persist in many countries and contexts. Thus, it is of great importance to addressing gender discrimination. The MDGs have achieved little progress in reducing the rate of maternal mortality, which largely depends on realizing women’s right and achieving gender equality. Inequalities and discrimination are often interrelated and interdependent. They are based on income, location, ethnicity, disabilities, or gender. Although few Sub-Saharan African countries have been working very hard to meet the MDG target of eliminating hunger and poverty by the year 2015, the region is expected to meet the target at the current pace.

If 1990 was the initial year and 2015 is the terminal one for the MDGs that were set in 2000, then only about one-eighth of the 25 years deadline are still left to achieve the set goals. There have also been concerns about the implications of the food, environmental and financial crises that roughly coincided in time. These crises had their own consequences and implications on the MDGs. In this regard, it is necessary for governments to introspect and reflect on what should be done before the specified deadline in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Also, compared to other African regions, the MDG campaign has made an emphasis on the failure of Sub-Saharan Africa. It should be noted that Africa has been considered as the only continent that has not been efficiently working in order to meet the goals of the Millennium Declaration by 2015. Evaluating economic and social progress is not as precise and straightforward as the MDG discussion presents this. Setting targets towards a specific direction makes some regions look better, whereas others look worse, depending on the choices made by any target-setting exercise.

Thus, the aim of the following research is to discuss why poverty eradication in African cannot be the Millennium Development Goal’s success story without the human right principles of inequality and non-discrimination underpinning the goals. The extent to which and how human rights are reflected in the national development strategies that are based on the MDGs and policies in the selected African countries will be discussed in this research.

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Equality and non-discrimination are the key principles of the human rights law

According to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), all human beings have been born free and equal based on dignity and rights. Also, Article 2 explains equality can be achieved and non-discrimination must be maintained. All human beings have equal rights to all the freedom and rights determined in the Declaration. This could be achieved without any form of discrimination, such as race, sex, colour, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, and birth among others. Legal obligations are to stop discrimination and ensure equality in all human right treaties that have been adopted since the introduction of the UDHR.

Equality and non-discrimination are often interrelated under the human rights law. All states that exist in the world must ensure that people and groups do not become victims of inequality and discrimination. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) comprises a separate provision that clearly specifies that all people are equal before the law, in addition to the above-mentioned non-discrimination provisions. Thus, many human right treaties explicitly associate the discrimination clauses with the guarantees of equality. However, the concept of equality and non-discrimination do not mean that the same treatment will be provided in any case. This principle was articulated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee: “enjoying freedom and human rights on a similar scale does not mean identical treatment in any case. In support of the statement by the UN Human Rights Committee, certain provisions of the ICCPR itself have been pointed out. Thus, the distinctions between people have been revealed.

Three major principles have been specified:

  • the principle of substantive equality
  • the principle of non-discrimination
  • the principle of state obligations.

The principle of substantive equality is related to non-discrimination. It is central to the international human rights law that should be differentiated from formal equality. Formal equality refers to an approach to anti-discrimination that is limited to an examination of the use by a state of distinction, such as gender or race, as well as legitimacy. The principle of non-discrimination prohibits any detrimental treatment of an individual or group based on the prohibited grounds, such as sex, religion, or race.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

The Millennium Development Goals are the major focus of attention due to several reasons. Some reasons are based on the present in order to consider the implications of the great recession in the world’s economy and the global financial activities. Some of them are concerned with the past in order to review progress. Some of the commitments in the Millennium Declaration that were adopted by governments at the United Nations Millennium Summit held in 2000 were carefully selected, discussed and presented as the MDGs. The commitments are aimed at alleviating or eradicating hunger and poverty, reducing gender inequality, establishing the universal primary education systems, reducing child mortality, fighting against common diseases, improving maternal health, establishing a global partnership for further development, as well as ensuring environmental sustainability.

The attempt to reduce or eradicate poverty remained the theme at a series of conferences and summits during the 1990s. During the summits and conferences, some commitments were made even though it was the outcome of history in a more substantive way. Between 1950 and 1980, there was economic growth at a respectable pace across the developing world. This fact was considered evidence of a radical departure from stagnation that was experienced during the colonial era that could not be translated into the wellbeing of ordinary people.

The period from 1980 to 2000 was the era of marketing and globalization that belied the expectations and promises of the ideologues. During this period, there was discernible growth in the economic inequalities between people and countries while poverty and deprivation persisted in different parts of the developing world. Also, there was slower but more volatile economic growth across the developing world than that during the preceding three decades, except for China and India. However, it seemed as if there were a natural conjuncture for the creation of the MDGs based on the development experience of the preceding fifty years.

Based on the three dimensions to the significance of the Millennium Development Goals, time-bound poverty reduction resulted from a statement based on good intentions towards the improvement of the living conditions of the discriminated people. Thus, the MGD attributes brought about a mechanism that even if implicit, will be used to monitor the achievements in the pursuit of the set objectives. Based on the stipulated time horizons, some of the goals were specified according to some quantitative terms. It was an attempt to place the persistent problem until there was a large national concern over the development agenda for the International Corporation. Therefore, the national governments should be responsible for the people, just as the international community should be responsible for the national governments. Moreover, almost four-fifth of the MDGs’ life span was spent on their present incarnation.

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In addition, it must be recognized that just as much as the debates on development, the discourse on the MDGs is usually based on the ideological perspectives. Therefore, a lesson is usually drawn from experience either selective or partial based on the orthodox way of thinking. The conventional perspective is that even though there is rapid economic growth, the MDGs are achievable, and governance is good with substantial foreign help. However, the moral is that the human development is highly mediated on help, growth or governance. It should be noted that if countries perform poorly with respect to the MDGs, this happens because of insufficient help, poor governance, and insufficient growth.

In reality, growth might not trickle down, help might not be relevant, and the quality of governance might be the result of development, rather than the cause of development. Hence, the key belief is that there are the best practices in every sphere of human life that can be easily replicated. These arguments on help, growth, and governance are related to each other based on the belief that the MDGs’ agenda concerns economic development and policies. However, this system of beliefs is based on different inappropriate, but convenient abstractions. In fact, the economic consequences are defined by various political processes and social transformations. In this regard, it is a mistake to concentrate on the economy while isolating it from the society and politics.

The United Nations adopted the MDGs based on the worldwide concerted efforts. According to the UN calculations based on the additional development help, there is an estimated cost of meeting the MDGs, which varies from $121 billion in 2006 to $189 billion in 2015. However, it appears that Asia is well on the path to achieving the set goals through its own efforts, whereas Africa is still lagging behind. The UN MDG report of 2005 did not focus on replacing other development efforts, but typically sent a “can-do” message to the developed world that does not call for fundamental change, rather it calls for the additional funding of $48-74 billion annually by the year 2015.

Based on the 2005 MDG report, there is a clear merit in widely circulating the message on the possibility of solving the world’s most serious problems at a relatively low cost. This MDG process has helped to bring back the development based on the international agenda. Furthermore, the UN’s agreement on a list of the MDGs’ targets has helped to maintain the donors’ dedication to a common development agenda. As a result, a well-defined list of the regularly monitored targets has been provided, and coordination of help among donors has been determined.

Various figures have been on circulation on the amount of funding required to achieve the MDGs goals by the year 2015. According to the UN report, the amount of funding includes an additional $50 billion annually It is worth noting that this estimate is crude generalization to other countries. Nevertheless, the report intends to disregard the upward cost push of the up-scaling services that result from the intensified use of material resources and scarce skills. However, a relevant aspect of costing is the assumption that there are various well-organized and committed public sectors. The calculation of total official development assistance (ODA) even includes an adjustment for those countries that were not qualified due to inadequate governance.

According to the report, in order to assess the quality of governance, there should be a clear distinction between the failures caused by the lack of poverty and institutional capacity and deliberate unwillingness of a government to act in the best interest of its country. In this regard, only the first group of countries was excluded. Many countries, especially in Africa, that managed to reach improved government quality and required major investments were included. There are eight goals established in the Millennium Development Goals.

Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger

The MDGs were established to reduce the proportion of people who live on less than $1 daily. One of the major UN conferences that re-established the new international development agenda at the end of the 20th century revealed that combating poverty is a major goal. It requires a reduction from 29% of all people in the low and middle-income economies to 14.5%. This goal is to reduce the number of people who live in abject poverty to 890 million. It was estimated that there were about 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa who were living in abject poverty. Even though poverty was still deep and widespread, progress was unevenly distributed, and thus, there was a decrease in the proportion of people living in abject poverty to 23% in 1999 . Malnutrition and undernourishment are closely associated with income poverty. Most of the regions managed to achieve dramatic progress in reducing the proportion of underweight children during the past three decades. However, in 2002, there were estimated 150 million children under five years who were malnourished in the developing countries.

To Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

The MDGs call for the elimination of an enrolment gap between boys and girls in both primary and secondary schools in 2005. This is because in most low-income countries boys are more likely to attend schools than girls. Even when girls start school at the same rate as the boys do, it is believed that they more likely to drop out. This belief is based on the fact that parents think that males’ education is more important than females’ one. In most counties, it is considered that girls are supposed to work at home. Concerns about traditional biases against females’ education and safety can imply that they do not attend school or continue their studying beyond the primary level. The above-mentioned issues clearly explain why there are more illiterate young girls than boys. According to different reports, in some communities, girls spend more time on the unpaid care jobs than boys do.

To Achieve Universal Primary Education

In 1990, the conference on Education for all was held in Jomtien, Thailand. The primary goal of this conference was to provide universal primary education by 2000. Nevertheless, by the end of the year 1999, there had been still about 120 million primary-school-age children who do not get any schooling. About three-quarter of such children lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. The MDGs set more realistic, but difficult deadline that should be realized by the year 2015. It was stated that all children should pass through a full course of primary school. However, in many countries, schools have failed to enroll or retain all children. Thus, there can be a large gap between the reported enrolment, the attendance, as well as the completion rates. Progress has been slowest in the low-income countries, especially those in the Sub-Saharan Africa. It is reported that since 1990, about 17 developing countries have experienced the stagnant or declined completion rates in primary education. According to statistics, about 80 developing countries have been capable of build enough schools for all primary-age children. Only 27 out of the 80 countries have been reported to have retained at least 95% of the group through to completion.

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To Reduce Child Mortality

In the 1990s, there was an increase in the infant and child mortality rates in some African countries. According to the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), more than two-third of the death from a combination of diseases and malnutrition are readily preventable if there are competent public services .It is reported that only 37 developing countries will make some progress in order to reduce the child mortality rate in 2015, to a third of its 1990 level. However, as of 1995, 55 countries had not attained 80% measles vaccination of less than one year, and 48 countries were not able to report any data. Therefore, one of the main Millennium Development Goals is to reduce child mortality, especially in the African countries.

To Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other Diseases

One the goals of the millennium declaration is to reduce the rate or prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other harmful diseases in the African countries. With the estimated 40 million people who live with HIV/AIDS and about 20 million estimated deaths since the discovery of the disease, economy, public health, and the society at large have experienced unprecedented challenges. For instance, malaria poses particular risks to pregnant women and their unborn children. It may cause parental deaths, maternal anemia, and low birth weight. According to the WHO, in 2001, there were 2.3 million AIDS-related deaths in Sub-Saharan African where there is an adult prevalence rate of up to 8.4%. Also, every year, about 300 million people are affected by malaria in more than 100 countries. In 2000, there were 906,000 deaths worldwide and 880,000 in Sub-Saharan African countries in children who were below five years.

To Improve Maternal Health

As estimated in 1995, more than half of all maternal deaths occurred in Africa. According to estimates by the WHO and the UNICEF, more than 500,000 women in the developing countries die from childbirth or pregnancy complications. These are the main causes of death and disability among women of reproductive age. There was significant progress during the 1990s in the developing countries where there was an increase from 42% to 53% in the proportion of births attended by the skilled health practitioners. However, there was no significant change in general. Thus, improving maternal health is one of the major goals in the millennium declaration.

To Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Since every environment provides goods and services that are used to sustain human development, one of the goals of the millennium declaration is to ensure that development sustains the environment. This is particularly applicable to poor people who rely on the heavily and environmental services and goods for their livelihood. Such people are usually disproportionately affected by the impacts of environmental degradation. The sustainable use of natural resources usually improves the lives of the poor in many ways. Some of the ways are: reducing vulnerability, improving health, and increasing income.

One of the key determinants of health in regard to the sustainable environment is access to safe and reliable water supply. However, despite the achievements of the last decade, billions of people need to gain access to safe drinking water in order to reach a global average of 90% by 2015. Also, there is a need for the improved sanitation facilities because about 2.4 billion people still lack sanitary means of disposing of wastes. Due to the dangers posed by various unfavourable environmental factors, the need to ensure environmental sustainability in different parts of the world is one of the most essential Millennium Development Goals.

To Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Most of the low-income countries, especially in Africa, that are faced with enormous challenges and serious resource constraints in meeting the MDGs require the support of the international community. However, despite the commitment of the international community to different international development goals preceded by the MDGs, there is a relatively low value of help to the developing countries, which is at about 8% in the past decade. In order to achieve the MDGs, it is required that the industrial countries should provide financial support to the developing states. In order to increase the Official Development Assistance (ODA), it is necessary to remove various trade barriers and ensure that current debt relief efforts meet debt sustainability goals. Any form of assistance is required from the international community. Thus, one of the goals of the MDGs is to develop the global partnership for further development.

Strengths of the MDGs

The strength of the MDGs is that they comprise a manageable number of direct goals that are easy to comprehend and evaluate based on the specified deadlines. This helps to rekindle the interest and strengthens the willingness to put in more resources into further development, especially in the African countries. The goals have increased the accountability of relevant components that have contributed to greater effectiveness and results in the orientation in development policy. Nevertheless, some proponents of the MDG argue that in order to be successful, there is a need for new realistic and straightforward international agenda beyond 2015.

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The Weaknesses of the MDGs

The MDGs comprise an incomplete agenda that is originated from the Millennium Declaration. They cover only some parts, leaving out peace and security. Also, the goals cover only some dimensions of multidimensional poverty. Firstly, the MDGs measure the human and economic capabilities with the political or socio-cultural ones. Secondly, The MDGs do not consider distributive issues. This means that countries do not always take note of the effect of a particular goal on other issues. Thirdly, some MDGs only evaluate inputs or outputs, instead of evaluating the impacts or outcomes of development. However, these weaknesses impose a particular challenge to the least developed countries, especially in Africa.

Evaluating the Millennium Development Goals

In terms of conception, one of the major problems is that the MDGs specify the outcomes, but they do not define the process of realizing such outcomes. In other words, the MDGs define the destination, but they do not specify the journey to be embarked on. Any assessment of the MDGs as a framework for monitoring or thinking of development must begin with focusing on their design and conception that can be followed by evaluating their weaknesses and strengths. Global goals are are often considered as norms without recognizing the fact that there may be significant variations in the national priorities.

The MDGs focus on comparing between a desirable state and an undesirable state, without recognizing the significance of the change process or the transition path between different states. Also, the MDGs are set out in terms of aggregate averages that often conceal as much as they reveal based on the fact that there is no reference to outcomes redistribution. Therefore, the implicit separation of the results from the means compounds the problem. The representation of the social indictors of development as statistical averages or arithmetic means provide a single summary measure. However, this cannot reflect the wellbeing of the poor. Most of these poor people are significantly below any line drawn on the basis of average.

In terms of design, there are three limitations to assessing the MDGs as a framework. One of the limitations is the multiplicity of objectives. In this regard, there 8 goals and the 18 quantifiable targets, which have recently increased to 21. Also, there are 48 indicators that also increased to 60. The second limitation is that objectives are specified in several ways. Some of those objectives are set out in the proportional terms. There terms include: reducing the rate of child mortality by two-third; reducing the number of people living in hunger or poverty by one-half; reducing the number of people who have no access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities by one-half; as well as reducing the rate of maternal mortality by three-fourths. Other objectives are defined in terms of completion such as: gender equality in school education; universal primary education, universal access to reproductive health; or productive employment with decent work for all people. Also, other objectives are defined as statements of intentions, such as the decreased loss in bio-diversity or improvement of the lives of slum-dwellers. The third limitation is that some indicators are inappropriate and could be misleading.

Furthermore, despite the lack of the target for the flow of assistance seen in the MDGs, it could be anticipated that the easiest case to make regarding the impact of the MDGs may require the aid flows, given that the evolution of the MDGs in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The aid became more pronounced among different income groups and countries that were faced with some of the greatest challenges associated with meeting the MDGs. Regression analysis of the data collected between 1995 and 2009 suggested that smaller countries received more official development assistance as a %age of total GDP than larger ones. However, the MDGs did not necessarily require that national spending on the social sectors should be increased. Nevertheless, a measure of the MDGs impact domestic spending on policies. This might mean an increase in such spending.

The measures of actual policy change and strategies used to evaluate the MDG period have been associated with some improvements in policies that are applied in the priority spheres of the MDGs. A measure has been provided by the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA). More so, the Social Inclusion Index of the CPIA was designed to evaluate the efficiency of the policy towards the equity of the public resource use, building human resources, gender equality, and social and labor protection policies for environmental sustainability.
As a result, the MDGs have failed to meet strategic purposes of changing the developmental discourse.

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