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SDG - HR Atlas 
Leveraging the interface between Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights ...

An explanatory guide

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What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals are a universal call to action spearheaded by the United Nations to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

A set of 17 SDGs and 169 targets between them are contained in the UN Resolution A/RES/70/1 which is officially known as "Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development" and adopted by 193 Member States of the UN on 25 September 2015.

The 17 SDGs are graphically represented by a colour wheel and 17 icons as shown in the SDG Temple of Justice infographic.

What is the SDG Temple of Justice and how does it help realize the 2030 Agenda?

The SDG Temple of Justice (hereafter SDG Templeis an infographic of a blueprint that visualizes how to help realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by leveraging the human rights foundation of the SDGs through legal empowerment of people including the poor and disadvantaged groups.


The SDG Temple is further intended to be used as an SDG Acceleration Tool that seeks to mainstream human rights-based and market-based approaches to development in the work of national SDG policy makers and implementers. Within this holistic approach, legal, economic and technological empowerment of people (including the poor and disadvantaged groups) is put forward as a universal means of addressing “the greatest global challenge of eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions” while “leaving no one left behind” as stated in the 2030 Agenda.

Parts of the SDG Temple infographic

The human rights foundation of the SDGs is composed of (a) the ground level of the Temple that symbolizes democracy, good governance, peace and security, and (b) the steps leading to the Temple that symbolize the United Nations Charter, international and regional human rights treaties and instruments that are linked with a guide to the human rights - SDGs relationship.


The eight pillars of the Temple symbolize legal empowerment of people by means of promoting, protecting and assuring eightfold rights, i.e., Gender Equality, Property Rights, Contract Rights, Business Rights, Labour Rights, Right to an Effective Remedy, Right to Information, and the Right to Development.


The Lady Justice of the Temple signifies access to justice and the rule of law. Access to justice is a basic principle of the rule of law. The achievement of SDGs is highly dependent on the rule of law as without it a nation cannot fully realize human rights or any other legal right for the benefit of its people. SDG 16.3 is concerned with promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.


The top part of the Temple signifies the 17 SDGs, the achievement of which will be the outcome of pursuing a human rights guide to implementing the SDGs while promoting legal empowerment of the people as a human-rights-based development strategy. This process is visualized by the Temple’s top part, eight pillars, the statue of Lady Justice, the steps and the ground level.

The primacy of a business-friendly and human rights-based (holistic) approach to implement the SDGs

Business-friendly and market-based approaches to development promote innovation, employment and inclusive growth. 

Traditional approaches in the field of development are based on the assumption that the poor are unable to help themselves and therefore need charity, handouts and public funding. By contrast, market-based approaches are based on the premise that poverty should not deprive people of trade and market processes. Market-based approaches therefore look at people as consumers, producers, entrepreneurs and seek solutions that make markets more efficient, competitive and inclusive. Inclusive growth focusses on creating opportunities and ensuring equal access to them. Equality of access to opportunities will hinge on larger investments in augmenting human capacities, including those of the poor, whose main asset – labor – would then be productively employed.

​It is assumed that market-based economic development is likely to ‘foster a new spirit of entrepreneurship and results-based development to helping people around the world build their own path out of poverty’ (USAID 2011). Poverty alleviation via market-based interactions is only likely to be successful if the poor producer is included in the overall economic interactions.

The SDG Temple calls for aligning national action plans for implementing the SDGs with business-friendly approaches by incorporating provisions to promote and protect property rights, contract rights, business rights, right to information and gender equality as depicted by the pillars of the SDG Temple infographic.

What is a human rights-based approach to development?

It is increasingly recognized that human rights are essential to achieve sustainable development (UN OHCHR). A human rights-based approach to development seeks to achieve development objectives by following a legal roadmap. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the two International Covenants adopted in 1966 respectively on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights along with other human rights instruments operative at the international, regional and national levels constitute the legal roadmap of a rights-based approach to development.

A human rights-based approach is a conceptual framework for the process of human development that is normatively based on international human rights standards and operationally directed to promoting and protecting human rights. […] Under a human rights-based approach, the plans, policies and processes of development are anchored in a system of rights and corresponding obligations established by international law. This helps to promote the sustainability of development work, empowering people themselves— especially the most marginalized—to participate in policy formulation and hold accountable those who have a duty to act” (UN Practitioners’ Portal on Human Rights Based Approaches to Programming).

The human rights foundation of SDGs: As stated in the 2030 Agenda (paragraph 10), “The new Agenda is guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, including full respect for international law. It is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome. It is informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development.” 

Each of the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets correspond with provisions of either one or several international human rights treaties or instruments. A list of such treaties and instruments can be seen depicted by the steps leading to the Temple used in our blueprint.

The SDG icons appearing on top of the pillars of the model Temple are linked with human rights guides to each SDG. This mapping of SDGs with human rights provisions is presented by courtesy of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. 


This "human rights foundation" of the SDGs paves the way for, and justifies the adoption of a rights-based approach to implement the seventeen Goals while addressing the “greatest global challenge of eradicating poverty” as stated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.   

What is "legal empowerment" and why it matters for the SDGs?

Empowerment is the process of enhancing the capacity of individuals or groups to make choices and then transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes (World Bank, 2001. World Development Report 2000-2001 Attacking Poverty. Washington, DC).

Empowerment of people including the poor and vulnerable groups is a human rights-based multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary (i.e. legal, economic, technological, etc) approach to development.

Legal empowerment is the process through which the poor become protected and are enabled to use the law to advance their rights and their interests, vis-à-vis the state and in the market. (UN HLCLEP, 2008. p 26).

Legal empowerment is rooted in a human rights based approach to development, which recognizes that poverty results from disempowerment, exclusion and discrimination. Thus legal empowerment fosters development through empowering and strengthening the voices of individuals and communities, starting at the grassroots and from within” (Report of the Secretary General of United Nations (2009) prepared pursuant to General Assembly resolution 63/142 on the legal empowerment of the poor and eradication of poverty).

"Economic empowerment is the capacity of poor women and men to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes on terms which recognize the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth. Economic empowerment means people thinking beyond immediate survival needs and thus able to recognise and exercise agency and choice" (R. Eyben et al, Conceptualising empowerment and the implications for pro poor growth. A paper for the DAC Poverty Network Sep, 2008).

LEEG-net adopts the working definition for 'technological empowerment'  as the actions or process of strengthening the capacity of all people either individually or collectively to use the technology including information and communication technologies to advance their rights and interests, to improve their lives and livelihoods, and to alleviate or escape poverty. 

The law is the platform on which rest the vital institutions of society. No modern market economy can function without law, and to be legitimate, power itself must submit to the law (UN HLCLEP). As it can be deduced from this fact, and as several practical definitions of the term “empowerment” (including those mentioned above) suggest, legal empowerment can be considered as an essential condition for fulfilling the other dimensions of empowerment.

Accordingly, as a human–rights-based development strategy, legal empowerment of the people (including the poor and vulnerable groups) is well positioned to help realize the 2030 Agenda by leveraging the human rights foundation of Sustainable Development Goals. 

Empowerment of people including the poor, women, girls and other vulnerable persons is central to the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goals 5 and 10 explicitly deal with empowerment:

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

5.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

5.c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of Gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

10.2  By  2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.

According to the 2030 Agenda, the Agenda itself, and the Sustainable Development Goals and targets including the means of implementation, are universal, indivisible and interlinked (paragraph 71). In such a context, the role of legal empowerment could be seen as a universal means of implementing the SDGs by leveraging their human rights foundation.

The eight pillars of legal empowerment

of the SDG Temple of Justice

The blueprint presented here seeks to help realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by leveraging the human rights foundation of SDGs through the eight pillars of rights relating to legal empowerment of the people including the poor and vulnerable groups.

The First Pillar: Right to Gender Equality


Why Gender Equality matters for the SDGs?

The transversal role of realizing gender equality as an integral part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been affirmed with the inclusion of a stand-alone goal (Goal 5) among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Goal 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) has a direct positive impact on achieving some other SDGs, i.e. Goals 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 in particular.

Assuring Gender Equality as provided in the international human rights treaties would be a step in the right direction for achieving SDG 5 and other related Goals. READ MORE >

The Second Pillar: Property Rights

Why property rights matter for the SDGs?

Ensuring property rights is a critically important means of ending poverty (SDG 1) and achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (SDG 5).

Property rights help people to keep what they make. Property can be broadly classified into real property (land and buildings), intellectual property (patents, trademarks and copyright), and organizational property (corporations and partnerships). Property law and contract law together provide the legal foundation for markets.  READ MORE >

The Third Pillar: Contract Rights

Why contract rights matter for the SDGs?

As mentioned in the preceding section,  property law and contract law together provide the legal foundation for markets.


Contract rights are those rights that are granted through a valid contract. Contract rights exist on both sides of the agreement: one party may have the right to purchase a product, while the other party may have the right to supply that product to the buyer. Each contract addresses a different set of rights depending on the needs of the parties. 

As contracts govern the exchange of goods and  services, money and properties, contract rights play a critically important role in ending poverty (Goal 1), ending hunger and achieving food security (Goal 2), achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (Goal 5), ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all (Goal 7), promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (Goal 8), and generally the implementation of all other SDGs.    READ MORE >

The Fourth Pillar: Business Rights

Why business rights matter for the SDGs?

Ensuring poor entrepreneurs’ rights to vend, and to have a workspace and related infrastructure and services (shelter, electricity, water, sanitation), thereby facilitating the success of small and medium enterprises, would be an invaluable step towards poverty reduction, that would help achieve Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 5, 8 and 10 in particular.     READ MORE >

The Fifth Pillar: Labour Rights

Why labour rights matter for the SDGs?

Labor rights or workers' rights are a group of legal rights and claimed human rights having to do with labor relations between workers and their employers, usually obtained under labor and employment law.

A well-functioning system of labor and employment law at national level contributes to achieving SDG 8, i.e. the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Likewise, the SDG 8 seeks to promote labor rights including those that are enshrined in International Labor Organization Conventions, ...    READ MORE >

The Sixth Pillar: Right to an Effective Remedy

Why the right to an effective remedy matters for the SDGs?

Even when appropriate legal and other measures to protect and promote human rights are in place, breaches of rights can still occur. The right to an effective remedy is an essential component of human rights under the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) and other human rights instruments.


An overriding obligation under international law, and one implicit in the principle of the rule of law, is to provide effective domestic remedies for violations of human rights. In that sense, the right to an effective remedy has a direct positive impact on realizing SDG 16, especially SDG 16.3


Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.

16.3     Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.



The Seventh Pillar: Right to Information

Why the right to information matters for the SDGs?

Right to information (RTI) legislation, also referred to as freedom of information or access to information laws, is based on the general presumption that information held by the government should only be withheld from the public where absolutely necessary to prevent harm to a legitimate interest and where there is no overriding public interest in knowing the information.

The 2030 Agenda requires a revitalized Global Partnership to ensure its implementation in accordance with SDG 17. This Partnership will facilitate an intensive global engagement in support of implementation of all the Goals and targets, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources. (Para 39).


Obviously such a partnership would not have been possible without having the right to information guaranteed at both national and global levels. Therefore right to information will be a critically important factor for the successful realization of SDGs, including Goals 12.8, 14.5, and 16.10 in particular.


The Eighth Pillar: Right to Development

Why the right to development matters for the SDGs?

The right to development was proclaimed by the United Nations in the "Declaration on the Right to Development," which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986 by resolution 41/128.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is grounded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, international human rights treaties, the Millennium Declaration and the 2005 World Summit Outcome. It is informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development (paragraph 10).


Further the Agenda recognizes the need to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights (including the right to development), on effective rule of law and good governance at all levels and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions (paragraph 35).     READ MORE >

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