Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International60 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), what is the situation of Human Rights in the world and how does that affect the post-2015 development agenda?

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Salil Shetty, provided an answer to these tough questions during his public lecture at the Graduate Institute in Geneva on 21st January 2013.

A public lecture on Human Rights and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Needless to say, the auditorium of the Graduate Institute in Geneva was full of students, interns and professionals of different age, sex, ethnicity and formation, mostly gravitating around NGOs and international organisations, for the public lecture on Human Rights.

Hundreds of eyes turned on the same spot, ears were eager to listen and few hands were ready to take notes, when the lecture with the smiling Salil Shetty started.

The Secretary General of Amnesty International gave, with a confident tone of voice, a succinct interesting lecture on the interdependency of civil and political rights, and economical, social and cultural rights, as a cornerstone of the protection of human rights and development.

A missed opportunity

During the lecture, Salil Shetty underlined a number of times that, 20 years after the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights (1993), such rights are still too compartmentalised to the detriment of the most vulnerable and marginalised sections of the population worldwide.

He suggested that the end of the Cold War could have been a good opportunity to focus on the interconnection of security, development and human rights on the one hand, and of dignity and freedom on the other.

However, he recognised that the lack of resources and/or inappropriate allocation of public funds by governments have undermined the implementation of human rights towards the achievement of the MDGs.

Marginalisation and corruption jeopardise human rights and development

Son of a feminist and a human rights journalist, Salil Shetty is a committed activist in the fields of poverty, justice and human rights; so he was speaking with full awareness of reality when he said that the formal proclamation of the indivisibility of all human rights has not resulted in any true and genuine step forwards in the path of development.

He remarked that one of the main causes of such failure is the marginalisation of specific sections of the population both in developing countries, such as India, China and South Africa, and industrialised ones, with Roma communities.

The second stumbling block he pointed out is the issue of corruption, evasion and misallocation of public spending, which fosters inequality in terms of income, employment rate, access to food, water, housing and health care among others basic human rights.

The current lack of accountability does not help  

Salil Shetty’s calm expression turned to concern when he affirmed that the most critical factor to the collective failure to translate human rights into development goals is the lack of accountability and enforceability at global and regional level.

As an example, he briefly mentioned the issue of the voluntary aspect of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the UN and underlined the fact that it is still not in force since it has been ratified by less than ten countries out of over 190.

Hope for the future  

Salil Shetty ended his public lecture with a glimmer of hope, suggesting that the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda provide a new benchmark for the inclusion of human rights as extraterritorial obligations, establishing a legal framework for their implementation.

During the roundtable, moderated by the Director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, Andrew Clapham, the discussion moved further, touching future gender perspective issues.

As pointed out by more than one participant, the hope for the future is that a double movement breaths new life into the invisibility of human rights. The Secretary General of Amnesty International called on the idea of a top down reform of institutions, education and constitution accompanied by a bottom up push supported by the Civil Society and media.

Women’s rights and empowerment are critical to development

Despite the randomness of questions and issues raised during the roundtable, the discussion provided a few enlightening insights on the current status of women worldwide and plenty of food for thinking about the future of women’s rights.

Salil Shetty’s explanation of the role played by the Civil Society and the media in prompting a public reaction during the recent events in India offered a good opportunity to reflect on the recurrent violation of women’s dignity in the world.

Still on the subject of women’s rights, Salil Shetty admitted that women’s rights are particularly challenging, not only because they are difficult to classify into economic, social and cultural, or civil and political rights, but also because their implementation often requires a change of view on women’s status worldwide.

More news on human rights, security, development and women’s participation

As for the holistic approach on human rights suggested by the Secretary General of Amnesty International, WILPF International calls on the integration of the different aspects of security politics, disarmament, development, human rights and women’s empowerment.

We believe that women’s participation is critical to the discussion of new development goals and we will definitely attend and keep you posted on more events and discussions on the topic. Do not miss out our blog posts, articles and future updates on WILPF International website!