The Millennium Development Goals: Milestones or Millstones? Human Rights Priorities for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

67 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2011 Last revised: 16 Feb 2015

See all articles by Mac Darrow

Mac Darrow

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: October 1, 2011


In September 2010, world leaders met for the High Level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals (“MDGs Summit”). The Summit attracted high level participation from Member States, launched a number of important aid initiatives, and the Summit Outcome document reflected an unprecedented consensus by Member States on the importance of human rights for efforts to achieve the MDGs. The present paper critically appraises the MDGs and World Summit Outcome document from a human rights perspective, as the basis for recommendations on how human rights could be positioned to better effect in negotiations towards the post-MDGs development agenda.

Following a short introduction, the first substantive part of the paper examines the history, impacts and ongoing significance of the MDGs in re-framing and re-focusing international and national poverty reduction efforts and policies. The paper then surveys the main conceptual and methodological problems relating to the existing global MDGs monitoring framework, relating these to a deeper analysis of the political economy of the international development debate, informed by the incipient efforts of international donor agencies to re-define sectoral monitoring frameworks, targets and indicators. This sets the stage for an analysis of the human rights implications of the World Summit Outcome document of September 2010, as an aid to assessing the international community’s cognisance of the gaps in the existing MDGs edifice, and its willingness to address them in a successor global development agreement.

The prospects for a successful post-2015 global partnership for poverty reduction will depend, in part, on forging more effective cross-disciplinary coalitions and communities of practice, building the theoretical and evidence bases for a constructive synthesis between human rights and MDGs-based development policy-making. Hence the third part of the paper offers a conceptual framing apt to accommodate divergent disciplinary perspectives on the relationship between human rights and development, with a particular focus on the comparative contributions to policy-making of human rights and welfare economics. The paper rejects the dominant narrative of the “value added” of human rights to development policy-making in favour of a more nuanced and embracing, even if non-prescriptive, conceptual framework that accommodates both deontological and consequentialist perspectives.

The paper concludes by venturing a set of substantive and process-related parameters that should guide the reformulation of a post-2015 global poverty reduction compact, positioning human rights arguments and identified priorities clearly and strategically within an increasingly challenging constellation of threats to international human rights and underlying ethics of global social justice.

Keywords: Human rights, Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, development, international law, poverty, economics, social rights, international cooperation, discrimination

JEL Classification: A12, A13, C10, D63, D79, E60, F00, I30, J70, K00, K33, O20, O40

Suggested Citation

Darrow, Mac, The Millennium Development Goals: Milestones or Millstones? Human Rights Priorities for the Post-2015 Development Agenda (October 1, 2011). Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, Vol. XV, March 2012, Available at SSRN:

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