From email to the office of the New York Times Senior Editor for Standards and its Public Editor

24 September 2014




In 2001 the General Assembly referred to the MDG structure [later note: should read 'the road map containing the MDG structure'] not as "commitments" but as a "useful guide" to implementing the actual commitments:

"Recommends that the “road map” be considered as a useful guide in the implementation of the Millennium Declaration by the United Nations system....
Requests the Secretary-General to prepare an annual report and a comprehensive report every five years on progress achieved by the United Nations system and Member States towards implementing the
 Millennium Declaration, drawing upon the “road map”....while the quinquennial comprehensive reports examine progress achieved towards implementing all the commitments made in the Declaration...
Invites the United Nations system, in cooperation with Member States, to adopt specific measures to give widespread publicity to the Millennium Declaration
and to increase the dissemination of information on the Declaration
" .

Did the General Assembly, at some point since the Declaration, somehow agree that the MDG targets supersede the pledges?

Apparently not.

In respect of the US position, there seems to have been, effectively, a specific reaffirmation in 2005 of the commitment to the Declaration's goals.  

[New York Times quoting Ambassador Bolton:] " "Quite some time ago the president said unequivocally we support the development goals in the millennium summit declaration," Mr. Bolton told reporters. "Now that's different from the goals that were actually written by the secretariat. There is no backing away by the United States in the support for the millennium summit declaration." 

"In a letter to other envoys, John R. Bolton, the American ambassador, explained that the United States supported the goals enunciated by the millennium summit meeting but not the "package of goals and subsidiary targets and indicators" that were later circulated by the Secretariat."

Technically, that would mean the US was recommitting itself to the more ambitious pledges to reduce, for example, mortality rates from 2000 levels, not 1990 levels. 

In 2005 member states stated in General Assembly Resolution 60/1 that they 

"reaffirm the United Nations Millennium Declaration".

The Declaration of 2000 stated, 

"We therefore pledge our unstinting support for these 
common objectives and our determination to achieve them."

The 2005 resolution states:

"we further resolve:...To assist developing countries' efforts to prepare integrated water... plans as part of their national development strategies and to provide access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation in accordance with the Millennium Declaration and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, including halving by 2015 the proportion of people who are unable to reach or afford safe drinking water and who do not have access to basic sanitation..."

That is a commitment to the Declaration's target, not the MDG target.

The 2005 resolution also states,

"171.  We call for strengthened cooperation between the United Nations and national and regional parliaments, in particular through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with a view to furthering all aspects of the Millennium Declaration".

- which clearly means furthering not just targets but pledges.

The August 18 article is another example of recent coverage.  Its links seem to me to demonstrate that it confused the Goals' targets with the Declaration's pledges.   

August 18, 2014
"...the United Nations Millennium Development Goals
[links to with  the easier 1990 baselines], 
an eight-part mission
[links to which does not have the 1990 baselines]
 focusing on reducing poverty, protecting the environment and promoting peace, among other objectives."

I have suggested to you that the earlier coverage on its own, irrespective of date, provided reasonable grounds for the public to expect to be told the truth.   

Another article from this year contributes to the impression:

May 6, 2014 
"The new crop of objectives is meant to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals the United Nations set in 2000."

It may be that the significance of this issue has not sunk in.  As you can see from the email to the public editor, her own paper has put out similar material.   In those circumstances, I request information on 

a) by whom the Times considers the public editor's role could be properly exercised, and 
b) the Times' written corrections policy to which you were perhaps alluding in your last email. 

Thank you for your attention.

Best wishes,

Matt Berkley.