MPV at the High-Level Political Forum

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Pushing for human rights in development PolicY

This month, MPV’s UN team faced several challenges while trying to promote human rights at the UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF). The first and biggest challenge had to do with the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of Saudi Arabia.

The VNR segment of the HLPF is where member states volunteer to present government-prepared reports on their progress in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals as part of international commitments to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The process mandates the engagement of a wide variety of stakeholders, including various civil society and human rights organizations, academia, the private sector, and others. These stakeholders have the opportunity to deliver a brief statement and ask the presenting member state three questions in response to certain issues or gaps that are prevalent in the VNR. This year, 47 countries volunteered to give presentations during the VNR. Among those countries were several states of interest, including Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Leveraging its accreditation with the UN Economic and Social Council, MPV participated in drafting a stakeholder’s response to Saudi Arabia’s VNR  that was both fair and firm in its critique of Saudi Arabia’s misuse of Islam to justify arbitrary imprisonment, execution, and the demolition of a political opponent’s town.

 MPV UN Coordinator, Marwan Bishtawi, participates in the VNR sessions from behind the Children and Youth Major Group's seat. 

MPV UN Coordinator, Marwan Bishtawi, participates in the VNR sessions from behind the Children and Youth Major Group's seat. 

However, since all stakeholders have to achieve consensus on a single statement, MPV found itself working with a Saudi NGO that refused to abide by the protocol in place to ensure collaboration and consensus and that was actively obstructing the UN team’s efforts to include human rights in the statement. It later emerged that this NGO is chaired by a Saudi Prince, recategorizing it as a royal NGO, or “RoNGO,” and which sheds light on its imperatives to shield the Saudi government from accountability.  

MPV and its allies from the Major Group for Children and Youth rebuffed the RoNGO’s efforts to suppress the voice of inclusive, faith-based human rights organizations. In turn, the RoNGO resorted to political games to block the statement that MPV created in collaboration with other NGOs. Ultimately, members of the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders Coordination Mechanism—the  transnational platform for civil society organizations tasked with coordinating civil society input to the VNR process—decided to cancel the delivery of the statement in fear that the Saudi government would weaponize the lack of consensus to reduce stakeholders’ access to these VNR sessions. Since the statement could not be read at the HLPF, the UN team would like you to read it here.

MPV will continue to raise and frame religiously-justified human rights violations as a threat to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda

In the end, MPV supported this decision because we value the opportunity for long-term political engagement over short-term agendas and interests. At the same time, MPV calls for a just overhaul in the way VNR presentations are organized. Such an overhaul should be considered by relevant UN agencies in order to improve and facilitate the meaningful engagement of all stakeholders in sustainable development processes.

Achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development relies on honest analysis of successes, challenges, and the experiences of civil society organizations on the ground. They also rely on partnerships made in good-faith between civil society and governments. But such partnerships do not preclude governments from accountability when they choose to ignore state-sponsored human rights violations that constitute obstacles to the holistic implementation of the SDGs. MPV will continue to raise and frame religiously-justified human rights violations as a threat to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and will not yield to the RoNGOs who seek to co-opt and undermine the legitimate UN processes by which we do so.