The Global Goals: We need to put a spotlight on human rights

Today is Human Rights Day, an annual observation of the day the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. Now over 70 years old, the UDHR is a milestone document that sets out fundamental human rights and freedoms for all people. These rights are for everyone, everywhere and are at the centre of the Global Goals. Unless universal human rights are met, none of the Goals will be achieved by 2030.

This year the theme is Equality – Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights. Achieving the Goals is everyone’s responsibility and in order to leave no one behind by 2030, we must ensure that equality, inclusion and non-discrimination are at the heart of the efforts made towards the 17 Goals.

Human rights and progress under threat

Photo: Mika Baumeister

Since the adoption of the UDHR, rights have expanded and the world has made great strides in reducing poverty, child mortality and disease. Between 1990 and 2015, over a billion people were lifted out of poverty, and in the last 30 years childhood mortality has more than halved. However, human rights – and the Goals – are under threat in many contexts. Climate, conflict, gender-based violence, and the mistreatment of refugees remind us that we still have far to go, and the impacts of the pandemic has exacerbated existing problems as well as giving rise to inequalities around vaccines and healthcare.

The Global Goals must have human rights at their core

Achieving the Goals means securing human rights for all. This is not just the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for the good of people and planet. When every child can get an education, indigenous groups have access to their land, and no one is discriminated against because of their race or gender, we will unlock a better and brighter future for all.

To end the cycle of poverty for good, human rights must be embedded in global and local economies – a part of everyone’s everyday life – to lessen the rampant inequalities and structural discrimination that keeps over three-quarters of the world’s wealth in the hands of 10% of the population. The pandemic exacerbated inequalities between people and countries, and leaders must take a rights-based approach in ensuring everyone’s right to a healthy standard of living, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, is met.

Girls in Afghanistan studying in school as part of UNICEF's programmes.

Photo: UNICEF/Rezayee

Women’s rights are not separate from human rights; they are human rights. Unless women have full social, economic and political rights, we cannot achieve the Goals. By ensuring one half of the population isn’t left behind when it comes to securing their rights, we will all benefit from better educated, healthier and more productive societies. As we see the rights of women and girls being rolled back in Afghanistan, the global community must not sit back and watch as generations of girls are denied their right to an education and women are denied their right to participate in public life.

A safe home is a human right

Photo: Maria Teneva

The climate crisis is a human rights issue. The planet can live on without us, but we cannot live on a dying planet, and those who did the least to causes climate change are already suffering the worst effects. This year, Madagascar has found itself on the brink of the world’s first climate change famine, China and Germany experienced devastating floods, and hundreds of people died in the US and Canada as temperatures soared above previous records. Leaders and businesses all have a responsibility to uphold the right of everyone to lead safe and healthy lives – and as individuals we can all remember that the rights of the most vulnerable, especially as we take action to protect our planet for us and for future generations.

As conflict, natural disasters and extreme weather continue to drive people away from their homes and families, the global community must provide a joined-up response to support internally displaced people and refugees who find themselves in the most impossible situations. We all have a right to a home, but over 80 million people have been forced to flee theirs with fear for their lives. Conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan, violence and food shortages in South Sudan, persecution in Myanmar, and political and the economic crisis in Venezuela have left millions with no choice but to leave their home country if they are to have a chance to survive. Refugees often face dangerous journeys to find a safe home, and when arriving in a new country to seek asylum may be faced with hostile policies that deny their rights to adequate food, shelter, healthcare and work opportunities. We can all hold our leaders accountable, asking them to remember that the Goals they agreed to in 2015 are for everyone, everywhere, and that they are an embodiment of the right of all of us to live free, equal and dignified lives.

Human Rights and the World's To-Do List

The Global Goals are the roadmap to a better future for all and discrimination of any kind – based on race, sexuality, gender identity, ability, religion – will only erode progress and undermine the innovations that could get us closer to that future. A future where everyone’s human rights are upheld.

We must all – businesses, governments, society and individuals – put achieving universal human rights at the heart of policy, action and activism for the Global Goals, with the most vulnerable and marginalised given a platform and being a central part of the efforts to achieve these 17 ambitious Goals. Human rights for all needs to be on the world’s to-do list if we are to achieve the Goals in 2030.