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A top United Nations official today told world leaders gathered in New York that they are more likely to accelerate progress to achieve the set of anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) if they take a human rights approach to their commitments.

“It is the job of all of us to forge a global human rights constituency, to ensure that this moment is not lost, and that human rights and the MDGs are pursued hand-in-hand for sustained and equitable development results,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

The Goals, which include range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015, were agreed upon by world leaders 10 years ago.

Speaking at UN Headquarters, where a three-day summit to discuss the progress made so far and how to advance the ambitious targets has begun, Ms. Pillay said that many commitments world leaders have made in the past “regrettably remain only paper promises.

To ensure that their pledges are translated into deeds, governments need to adhere to the obligations and responsibilities they have all accepted under international human rights law, she added.

The High Commissioner focused on the potential of MDG 8, which mandates a global partnership for achieving the Goals, adding that such partnerships should explicitly prioritize the needs and rights of the poorest and most marginalized, and mandate positive measures to level the playing field.

“The MDGs embody an unprecedented global compact for poverty reduction, a new deal under which richer and poorer countries agree to join efforts towards a small number of achievable, time-bound human development targets.

“MDG 8 is a defining element of this bargain, encouraging a fairer deal on aid, trade, debt relief, technology transfer, access to essential medicines and other critical elements of an enabling international environment for development,” said Ms. Pillay.

She added that the outcome document that is expected to be adopted at the end of the summit on Wednesday contains a number of explicit references to human rights, including the right to development, which would help ensure that implementation of the MDGs be done in accordance with the human rights obligations of States.

Last week the chairpersons of the UN human rights treaty bodies issued a statement noting that faster progress towards achieving the MDGs can be accomplished by adhering to international human rights standards.

The group drew special attention to the fact that some of the Goals, such as primary education for all or gender parity, fully meet international human rights treaty obligations.

However, they stressed that realization of other Goals “would still fall short of what human rights treaties require, as treaties call for the realization of human rights for all, which goes beyond the reaching of quantified targets.”