The post-2015 development agenda: Adherence to human rights alone is inadequate

Letter to the Editor

Published May 14, 2014

Dear Editor,

“The post-2015 development agenda, human rights, evidence, and open-access publishing” (editorial, Volume 15, Issue 2) highlighted the importance of including human rights on the post-2015 development agenda.1 However, the editorial and calls by the UN’s High Commissioners for Human Rights and the UN Task Team’s “thematic think pieces” for a human rights-based approach to the post-2015 development agenda are narrow in perspective and indifferent to global realities.2,3 Their injunctions demand nation-states to act principally and implicitly within their borders — by adhering to principles of participation, accountability, non-discrimination, empowerment and the rule of law — while disregarding the broader issue of cross-border aggression and wars between states.2,3 Furthermore, indifferent to global realities, these documents avoid using the word ‘war’ despite newsreels that constantly report cycles of inter-state wars or aggressions: invasion of Iraq, attack in Afghanistan by NATO, drone strikes on civilians in Pakistan by the US, escalating war in Syria with active involvement of other countries, and crisis in Ukraine with Russian involvement. Aren’t these cross-border conflicts at least partly responsible for creating or promoting social chaos at a global scale, disintegrating social norms, and perpetuating a culture of violence that in turn are determinants or risk factors for human rights violations? Aren’t invasions and cross-border aggression themselves responsible for destruction of human and socio-economic development at global, national and sub-national levels?

I urge human rights advocates, editors of journals on human rights, and the development community to recognize and acknowledge the role of cross-border aggression in reversing decades of development and creating environments that enable violations of human rights. Replacing wars with peace should be an overarching goal and essential prerequisite to any form of development. There can be no development amidst war (other than development of the military). Global peace is a prerequisite for development and survival of the human species.

The proliferation of war cannot be eliminated by a UN Security Council (UN-SC) that is largely governed by an elite grouping of nations (which ironically is involved either directly or indirectly in most instances of cross-border aggression), nor by a development community by taking a human rights perspective of development. Wider coalitions and actions that include global civil society are essential. The latter should include global contracts at the level of the UN-SC that aim to eliminate cross-border aggression, either covert or overt, as a means of conflict resolution. I urge that we gather forces and demand the post-2015 global development agenda also include a firm commitment to reduce all wars to zero by 2030.4,5

Saroj Jayasinghe, MBBS, MD, MD, FRCP, FCCP, is Professor in the Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Please address all correspondence to the author at Faculty of Medicine, Kynsey Road, Colombo, Sri Lanka, email:


1. C. Williams, “Editorial: The post-2015 development agenda, human rights, evidence, and open-access publishing,” Health and Human Rights 15/2 (2013).

2. UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, Towards freedom from fear and want: Human rights in the post 2015 agenda [thematic think piece] (2012). Available at

3. N. Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human rights in the post-2015 agenda (2013). Available at

4. S. Jayasinghe, “The post-millennium development goals agenda: Include ‘end to all wars’ as a public health goal!” Global Health Promotion (March 18, 2014).



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The post-2015 development agenda, human rights, evidence, and open-access publishing