The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are failing the world's poorest people because governments are ignoring and abusing their human rights, Amnesty International said as heads of states meet this week to review progress on the MDGs at a United Nations (UN) summit in New York.
More than a billion people living in slums are not even included in MDG efforts because the MDG target on slums only commits to improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers.
"Unless world leaders agree to take urgent steps to uphold the human rights of people living in poverty, the poorest and most disadvantaged people around the world will continue to be left out of the MDGs," said Amnesty International's Secretary General, Salil Shetty, who will be leading the organization's delegation to the summit.
"But language alone is not enough, people must be able to hold governments accountable when they fail to uphold human rights. They should be able to challenge corruption or neglect through courts and regulatory bodies to ensure governments actually fulfil their obligations."
An estimated 70 per cent of those living in poverty are women. Yet MDG efforts in many countries fail to address the wide-spread discrimination women face in accessing food, water, sanitation and housing, while discriminatory policies, laws and practices that underpin gender-based violence and undermine progress on all the MDGs, have been left to fester.
Many states are carrying out mass forced evictions that drive slum dwellers even deeper into poverty and violate their right to housing.
For example, in just one city in Nigeria over 200,000 people are currently facing eviction because the authorities plan to demolish more than 40 informal settlements in Port Harcourt's waterfront area. Thousands will lose their livelihoods as well as their homes if the demolitions go ahead.
Kenya is an example of another country whose policies have ignored the needs of women living in slums while trying to meet its MDG targets. Women living in slums risk being attacked when trying to use communal toilets, particularly after dark. The lack of effective policing to prevent, investigate and punish gender-based violence or provide an effective remedy to women and girls, means violence against women goes largely unpunished.
Another case is Nicaragua, which despite committing to the MDG target on improving maternal health, has outlawed abortion in all circumstances. The overwhelming majority of pregnancies as a result of rape or incest are amongst girls aged between 10 and 14, whose health and life are put at risk by unsafe abortions or by having to give birth at an early age.
But effective mechanisms to hold governments accountable can strengthen MDG efforts. In 2001 the Indian Supreme Court ruled that a programme to provide mid-day school meals must meet minimum quality standards and be available to all school children. Since then an estimated additional 350,000 girls are enrolling in school every year because of the increased availability of meals.
"A global promise to tackle poverty cannot leave the poorest and most vulnerable people behind," said Salil Shetty.
"But that is what is happening – and will continue to happen – unless world leaders commit to take the action necessary to achieve real change, and to uphold the human rights of the poor. This Summit is the last chance; failure here and now all but guarantees failure in 2015."
Work on the MDGs is part of Amnesty International’s Demand Dignity campaign, which aims to end the human rights violations that drive and deepen global poverty. The campaign will mobilise people all over the world to demand that governments, corporations and others who have power listen to the voices of those living in poverty and recognise and protect their rights. For more information visit the Demand Dignity pages.