Implementing the Millennium Development Goals: Our Human Rights Obligation page – 2

Implementing the Millennium Development Goals: Our Human Rights Obligation

Conference Report, Ottawa, 8-9 June, 2005

Day One: Welcoming Remarks

Jean-Louis Roy, President, Rights & Democracy

Acknowledging that attendees had come from all parts of Canada and all parts of the world, Jean-Louis Roy thanked them for participating in Rights & Democracy’s annual conference.

As this meeting is taking place in one of the richest parts of the world, hundreds of millions of others would spend the day fighting extreme poverty, searching for food, water, and sanitation, and trying to find access to health services and drugs. Some of these people will survive the day, while thousands will not. All would be deprived of their basic social and economic rights. “No food, no water, no health services, no drugs, no schools, no housing, no jobs, no recognition, no respect, no rights.”

While this meeting is taking place, little girls would be raped in the Sudan, people would have their shelters burned in Zimbabwe, and children would see their mothers, fathers, or both, die from HIV/AIDS.

Poverty in Africa has doubled over the last 20 years. In addition, Africa’s share of world trade has fallen from 6% to 2% in the last 10 years. Roy asked, “Considering these facts, how can we believe that democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights can take root and endure in these devastated human societies?”

He called on participants to provide answers to the people living in extreme poverty. “Do we believe that each and all of them share our common dignity or not? Do we believe that all of them have social and economic rights or not?”

No one can plead ignorance of the situation facing these people. “Mountains of reports” have been written and extreme poverty has been documented many times. “Extreme poverty is a violation of human rights,” Roy said.

It is a time to propose urgent action. It is a time to press the Canadian government to lead in the full realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—“goals that can contribute to human rights, human security, and human development now.” Canada should recommit to the MDGs by developing a plan of action to reach the United Nations’ target of contributing 0.7% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 2015.

The Canadian government should abolish all public debt for underdeveloped countries. Instead of waiting for the other G8 countries to act, Canada should act now—independently and decisively.

If an investment is not made now and if the MDGs are not reached, the world will have to be prepared to invest a huge amount of money in the near future to contain the spread of instability, to protect people living in fragile states, to rebuild large fragments of the world, and to try and protect people from the “despair and desperation of millions of educated young men and women who believe they have no future.”

Roy introduced Stephen Lewis, saying that his message is clear: “First get the basic rights, and never forget the hope in the midst of despair.”