The Path of Dignity: WYA Response to the Secretary General’s Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

The World Youth Alliance is a global coalition of young people committed to promoting the dignity of the person and building solidarity among youth from developed and developing nations. We train young people to work at the regional and international levels to impact policy and culture. Through this lived experience of the dignity of the person, young people are able to affirm life at all levels of society.


Dignity and Sustainable Development

We welcome the inclusion of dignity as the first of six essential elements of sustainable development in the Secretary General’s report. However, the report itself indicates a departure from the foundational understanding of dignity that has played an essential role in the United Nation’s promotion of human rights from the beginning.  The first line of the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that each person’s “inherent dignity” is part of the “foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” And its first article affirms this unequivocally: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Every human rights treaty since the UDHR has been based on this idea: that each human being has an inherent, inalienable value which she possesses regardless of characteristics, circumstances, or governmental recognition. Without this understanding, that each and every human being matters, there can be no human rights, no justice, and no true development. Only by recognizing the value of each human being can we achieve poverty eradication through sustainable development. As each conference has recognized, the human person is at the center of development.  By casting dignity as a goal, the Report misses the mark. Dignity is not at the end of the road; it is the road itself, the ground upon which we build a just and equal society.


Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

The World Youth Alliance supports authentic empowerment which protects and promotes the dignity of each human being. Health, including reproductive health, is an ingredient of human beings’ ability to reach their full potential. The Report indicates that there is a consensus, however, going beyond the goal of health to include reproductive rights, which are widely understood to include abortion. Although proponents of reproductive rights have asserted that abortion is a human right, they do so without legal basis. Human rights can only be established by treaty or by customary international law. Abortion has not been recognized as a human right in any United Nations human rights instrument. The lack of consensus among Member States with regards to abortion makes clear that neither is there any customary law recognizing abortion as a human right.

The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) underpins all subsequent development conferences and goals.  Because the ICPD was a negotiated consensus document, it bears great weight. Like other instruments, the ICPD does not include abortion as a human right. In fact, it casts abortion as undesirable, particularly as a method of family planning, and declined to expand abortion beyond States where it had already been legalized. This is the appropriate basis for the Sustainable Development Goals. The insertion of reproductive rights into the Open Working Group document, and the recognition of it in the Report, are unfounded and do not reflect international consensus. Thus they should be removed.

Moreover, it is troubling that instead of remaining a health goal, abortion, which is a medical procedure, has now been included as part of Goal 5 on gender equality. Many women, including hundreds of thousands of young women members of the World Youth Alliance, strongly reject the idea that abortion is necessary for their empowerment. No one can be empowered by a procedure that violates human dignity by treating human life as though it is disposable. We encourage the Secretary General and all Member States to reject this false empowerment.

There can be no sustainable development without human dignity as a foundation. The World Youth Alliance applauds the international commitment to poverty eradication, and urges the Secretary General and Member States to keep the human person at the center of development in developing and implementing the post-2015 agenda.