Back to top

MADRE Representatives' Statements at Hearings on UN Reform and the Millennium Development Goals

MADRE representatives Mirna Cunningham, Betty Murungi, and Alejandra Sarda were selected by a joint civil society-United Nations task force to participate in the UN General Assembly Hearings with Civil Society on June 23 and 24, 2005 in New York City. The hearings were the only opportunity for civil society to voice their opinions on the Secretary General's proposal for UN reform and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)-a global initiative to end poverty and promote development by 2015-before the Millennium+5 Summit in September 2005.

Their statements are below.

Alejandra Sarda: Freedom to Live in Dignity

The Council of Human Rights that will replace the current Commission as the main UN Human Rights body must explicitly reaffirm the commitment already taken by the Special Procedures: human rights violations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression fall within their mandate. No culture or religion can be an excuse for States to perpetrate or condone human rights violations. Our lives as lesbians or transgender, as bisexuals or gay men, are not second-rate lives. Nor are our rights and our dignity.

Mirna Cunningham: Linking Development and Human Rights

Naksa. Saludos desde mis comunidades multitnicas en la Region Autonoma Atlantico Norte de Nicaragua y la Organizacion MADRE. Muchas gracias por permitirnos a las mujeres indigenas presentar nuestro punto de vista sobre este importante proceso.

We want the outcome of the September Summit to consider our concept of development. The dominant approach to the MDGs is based on the assumption that "development" will eventually flow from macro-economic policies, the same policies that have, in large measure, caused the crises that the goals are intended to address. The approach to development that has prevailed has been the strengthening of markets, cutting government spending, privatizing basic services, liberalizing trade, and producing goods primarily for export, the public and private partnership, and the result has been disastrous. The proposed outcome document does not reflect the impact on the lives of women and orphans of HIV/AIDS, or the relation between that model of development with displacement, migration, trafficking, forced prostitution and violence against women.

Poverty has increased in our countries. The exploitation in our poor countries has contributed to the destruction of sustainable livelihood and accelerated loss of lands and natural resources, means of subsistence and displacement, assimilation and erosion of culture. Issues such as local traditional food systems, knowledge and livelihood, the threats to sustaining such systems, such as monoculture cash crop production for export, mineral extraction, environmental contamination and genetically modified seeds and technology, are issues that have to be addressed.

The most dramatic result is the use of violence by our governments to impose such a model of development and economic measures when the poor resist in order to survive. This causes more problems of governance and democracy–problems that will not be solved by only creating a Fund to promote democracy, but by the recognition that the causes of exclusion, discrimination and poverty that we face, derive from deep structural and historical causes that can only be changed with political will, enough resources, and real participation of the poor, especially women. For indigenous peoples, despite the enormous diversity there is however coincidence over the basic elements of a model of self development. These follow.

  1. Self-determination, understood as the possibilities of independent management of their territories and resources by their own institutions, exercising their right to self-government.
  2. Recovery of the sustainable culture as a base of the local economy to strengthen their capacities, to assure food security, as well as opportunities to participate in the market economies.
  3. The recovery and fortification of the local knowledge, spiritual, and rights systems.
  4. The access to use and to benefit of the collective communal property: territories, Natural Resources, biodiversity, collective intellectual knowledge.

The problem that we face with the MDG's is that the targets and indicators infuse neoliberal priorities into development policy using the language of human rights. They seek to "eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" (Goal 1), but rely on the discredited notion that economic growth at the national level (GNP) can eliminate poverty; and they assume that privatization of services is a strategy for–rather than an obstacle to–economic development.

For women it is crucial that the MDGs address our right to own and inherit property, sexual health rights and reproductive health rights, violence including ethnic and gender based disadvantages and discriminations, and life long intercultural education to reduce poverty and counter discrimination.

The implementation of MDGs should be consistent with internationally recognized human rights of women and Indigenous Peoples's recalling the indivisibility of human rigths. This means that gender equality and the recognition of Indigenous peoples as distinct peoples, the respect for our individual and collective rights to land and territories, and sustainable use of natural resources are crucial for the achievement of a just and sustainable solution to the widespread poverty.

The MDGs rely heavily on the $1-per-day indicator of "absolute poverty." This income-based measurement of poverty obscures the experience of millions of people, for whom poverty is not primarily a function of income, but of their alienation from sustainable patterns of consumption and production. Indigenous Peoples, for example, assert that poverty and wealth are determined primarily by access to, and control of, our natural resources and traditional knowledge, which are the sources of Indigenous culture and livelihoods. In Indigenous communities, human rights (namely, governments' recognition of collective Indigenous rights over land, natural resources, and traditional knowledge) are the keys to development.

For example, violations of Indigenous Peoples' right to sovereignty make our communities uniquely vulnerable to the abuses of corporate globalization. In most places, corporations are not required to compensate or even consult with Indigenous communities before removing resources from our lands. Historically, our knowledge has been developed, shared, and used collectively. But international trade rules fail to recognize collective intellectual property. As a result, Indigenous Peoples' knowledge is being appropriated by individuals and corporations seeking patent rights. From the perspective of multi-national corporations, these are trade issues. But from the perspective of the affected communities, these are fundamental issues of development and human rights.

If the MDGs are to meet the needs of poor communities around the world, they must be implemented with the recognition of the right to development. Sustainable development–which depends on broad civic participation, social justice, and a fundamental shift in the balance of power–is sidelined by this failure of the MDGs to operate within a human rights framework. Just as human rights principles must serve as our framework for implementing the MDGs, sustainable development must serve as our guiding strategy.

The attainment of MDG must be rooted in human rights. Governments should ensure the absolute prohibition of racial discrimination and punish such violations, and should promote multicultural policies. The rapid adoption of a strong declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples is imperative. The human rights approach to development should be operationalized by UN Agencies and governments, including financial institutions, and should be the framework underpinning MDG and poverty reduction strategies. We urge governments to consider language proposed by women's organizations and the IV Session of the Permanent Forum of IP Issues recommendation on MGDs for discussion of the September document. But mostly, we urge Governments and UN Agencies to include specific mechanisms of participation of civil society, women and Indigenous Peoples in the process of implementation and monitoring of the MDGs.

Thank you.

Betty Murungi: Freedom to Live in Dignity

Thank You, Mr. President, for the opportunity to address this forum. My name is Betty Murungi and I work with the Urgent Action Fund-Africa, a human rights organisation that is committed to the full enjoyment and protection of women's Human rights in crisis and conflict situations. I also represent MADRE which is an affiliate of the Global Call Against Poverty (GCAP). I thank you, Mr. President, for the opportunity to address this Assembly.

Implementing Existing Human Rights Standards

The indivisibility and universality of human rights as well as their interdependence and inter-relatedness are key concepts of the human rights framework that have been accepted in existing UN conventions, declarations and conference documents. Over the last 55 years or so, the international community has developed important normative standards in the areas of human rights, international and humanitarian law. There is need to reaffirm, strengthen and implement these standards. This outcome document must clearly link the Millennium development process, including the implementation of the MDG's, to existing international and Regional human rights instruments. The outcome document should reflect and reinforce commitments made in the BPfA, ICPD, CEDAW, UN SC 1325, ICC and all treaties. States have responsibility to uphold these standards, not undermine them as is the case with the Rome Statute.

Despite seeming acceptance of gender mainstreaming in UN documents, it remains one of the issues most easily marginalized and persistently trivialized. Gender analysis and gender responsiveness in the human rights agenda is important, however transforming social inequities for all, not just for some groups of women, is even more important.

Poverty as a Function of Human Rights Violations

Poverty is a function of human rights violations and a source of conflict.1 Unequal gender and power relations exacerbate poverty and violence against women. The high incidence of poverty is linked to proliferation of disease, particularly high rates of HIV and AIDS among women and violations of women's reproductive rights. Poverty and disease, particularly HIV and AIDS, is amplified enormously in conflict situations. We urge governments to include women's ownership of land, housing and productive resources as an indicator of poverty reduction in the MDG's.

Rule of Law; Sacrificing Human Rights to Claims of National Security

"Our response to terrorism, as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it, should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the efforts to combat terrorism-not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension." 2

After September 11, political and civil rights have been routinely sacrificed to claims of international and national security. Human rights defenders everywhere are alarmed at the challenges presented in promoting human rights in the context of the militarism, rising fundamentalisms, cultural extremisms, US unilateralism and the war on terrorism. The attendant disregard for internationally accepted standards and norms of behaviour set out in international and humanitarian law and the acceptance of militarism as a preferred method of dealing with threats of terrorism continue to impact negatively on human rights protections nationally and internationally and make a mockery of adherence to human rights standards generally. The international community has a duty to protect human rights, not to gang up to abuse the rights of the weak and vulnerable.

The passing of laws that violate human rights under the pretext that they protect against terrorism is another matter that needs clearer attention in the outcome document. Many states have implemented anti-terror legislation and counter-terror measures that directly impede the enjoyment of human rights. Some states have activated emergency restriction legislation that undermines human rights while claiming to be a response to terrorism.

On the other hand, economic, social and cultural rights are sacrificed to market-centered, profit-oriented development. Yet these rights are central to the enjoyment of human rights and reduction in poverty.

With regard to the rule of law, the issue of accountability and responsibility by governments to protect and observe human rights extends beyond their signature and ratification of these instruments. We welcome the SG's call in his report for new mechanisms of accountability.

Women's participation is fundamental to the protection and promotion of human rights

The gender perspective in all of this is critical in determining whether the goals will be met and the Cairo and Beijing agenda has to be incorporated if member states are not to go below existing standards.

The inclusion and participation of civic groups including women's groups at the community level is critical to the success of the summit.

The African Women's Millennium Initiative on Poverty and Human Rights (AWOMI) is working toward harnessing African women's leadership in economic policy analysis and monitoring investment for gender equality in poverty reduction. It is quite clear that groups such as these and others that have programs at all levels and are interacting with MDG target communities need to be included in the Summit discussions in September

There can be no democracy without human rights

It is critical to the development of democracy and democratic institutions for women to be present at every level, for example in peacemaking, constitution making, law-making, policy making and implementation. Need to respect autonomy of all--including groups that have been referred to in the various reports as 'the poor' (who are in the majority women). These groups are not just mere 'target groups' but central actors and 'right holders' in any process that addresses sustainable development, security and human rights. It is about them. Mechanisms of accountability that are proposed do not seem to take account of the unequal power relations between the North/South, State/ CSO's, community organisations or gender inequalities. The inequality in ability to contribute financially for example, to the democracy fund underlies this unequal relationship. Strengthening national and regional mechanisms of accountability such as the NEPAD /AU Peer review mechanism may address this democracy deficit more effectively. While we welcome the strengthening of the UN Human Rights System through the proposed Human Rights Council, we hope that civil society participation (including women's organisations) and inclusion is strengthened and not undermined by the new institutions.

End Notes

1. Poverty includes lack of access to natural resources and lack of rights and entitlement to control of such resources, see Sunita Narain, "MDG'S Linking Poverty and Environment for sustainable and equitable growth", Center for Science and Environment

2.See statement of Kofi Annan to a special meeting of the Security Council's Counter terrorism Committee with International Regional and Sub Regional Organisations, New York March 2003, available on (not found)