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Synergy of SAHRC and Stats-SA key to development

By Commissioner Mohamed Ameermia, SAHRC Commissioner responsible for right to housing and access to justice

SYNERGY between Statistics South Africa (Stats-SA) and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is crucial for the achievement of the goals of Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. Disaggregated data is essential in measuring whether governments globally are reaching their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out by the UN for Agenda 2030.

It is not only about measuring statistics, data and the progress each government makes in achieving these goals, but it also informs how these goals and the implementation thereof impacts on human rights. It is therefore essential that a collaborative relationship is forged between the SAHRC and Stats-SA within the South African context.

Stats-SA should collect the data on the impact of the implementation of the SDGs whereas the commission, as per its Constitutional mandate, should monitor the observance of rights and take corrective, protective action where needed. The first ever UN World Data Forum was held from January 15 to 18 January this year. It concluded with the adoption and launch of a blueprint dubbed the Cape Town Global Action
Plan for Sustainable Development Data. The forum was hosted by Stats-SA with the support from the Statistics Division of the UN’s department of economic and social affairs.

The Cape Town Global Action Plan will be presented for adoption to the UN Statistical Commission at its upcoming session in March 2017.
The Global Action Plan was prepared with inputs from the global statistical community and data experts from a wider range of stakeholders.
It notes that quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data is crucial in the measurement of goals and targets in the SDGs Agenda 2030.

Thus, the Global Action Plan contains a “to-do” list for global actors in ensuring that the Agenda 2030 is realised and no-one is left behind.
This “to-do” list is important for South  Africa. The Global Action Plan calls for a commitment by governments, policy leaders and the international community to undertake key actions in six strategic areas, including:
• coordination and strategic leadership;
• innovation and modernisation of national statistical systems;
• dissemination of data on sustainable development;
• building partnerships; and
• mobilising resources for statistical capacity building.

The adoption of the 2017 Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and its call for national statistical offices to develop national action plans specifically tailored for their domestic contexts is a welcomed initiative, particularly for the commission. The recent findings contained in the Oxfam report notes that “South Africa, for example, is now significantly more unequal than it was at the end of apartheid 20 years ago”.

This illustrates the importance of disaggregated data if this state of affairs is to be remedied, especially in the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights and the forging of an inclusive and equitable society. The commission relies heavily on data for purposes of ensuring that constitutionally guaranteed rights are realised and to contribute to web of accountability for the state.

Data is particularly important with respect to socio-economic rights whose realisation remains a challenge for many vulnerable people in South Africa, in particular, the historically marginalised and disadvantaged. Data, especially comparative data, provides an opportunity to assess whether progress is taking place in the delivery of basic services, in important areas such as, access to water, sanitation, basic education, housing, health care, food, social security, and the environment.

The commission as a national human rights institution (NHRI) is therefore uniquely placed to act as a catalyst in ensuring that national sustainable development processes and outcomes are planned, implemented and monitored in a participatory, transparent and accountable manner based on disaggregated human rights data.

However, the commission singularly does not have the necessary capacity nor has sufficient resources to undertake extensive and comprehensive data collection and analysis projects.

Thus, the clarion call by the Cape Town Global Action Plan for partnership building among stakeholders in data collection is welcomed by the commission.

The commission relies on among others, Stats-SA, as an independent national statistical office, to produce quality, accessible, timely and reliable disaggregated data. Going forward, collaborative partnerships between Stats-SA which is the national statistical office (NSO), and the commission, a NHRI, could take various dimensions.

For instance, the main criticism of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that the MDGs sacrificed vulnerable groups at the altar of progress. Thus, collaboration between the commission and Stats-SA could involve a process whereby the commission makes input into the kind of information to be gathered so as to ensure that the data collected is disaggregated along human rights lines and evinces the lived realities of the hard-to-reach marginalised and vulnerable groups.

This will ensure that the rallying call of the SDGs, which is “leave no-one behind” is given effect to and realised.

Further, the commission, as an independent constitutional body, offers a distinctive lens to analyse the data collected, and provide an unbiased evaluation of whether the state’s efforts to achieve the SDGs are respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.

Since NSOs are already engaged in building a “data revolution” which is centred on inclusive and sound data collection systems based on reliable disaggregated data, it is important that Stats-SA, as an NSO works closely with the commission, as a NHRI. Such kind of collaboration initiatives such as those highlighted above between Stats-SA and the commission, have the potential of enhancing data disaggregation and contributing to the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights, nationally as well as globally.

Mohamed Ameermia is a commissioner at the South African Human Rights Commission and is responsible for right to housing and access to justice

This Opinion Piece appeared in the New Age of 10 February 2017

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