Saturday, February 26, 2011

International Development: UN's little known Right to Development

Photo Credit: FES

By IDN Development Desk

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN (IDN) - Though hardly known beyond a circle of experts, the right to development is a human right enshrined in a United Nations declaration. As the world body starts commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Declaration, UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay has expressed the hope that it would draw wider public attention, particularly in the wake of popular uprisings in North Africa and the Gulf region.

Addressing a symposium in Berlin on February 24, 2011, Pillay called on governments and all concerned to seize the opportunity of the 25th anniversary to move beyond political debates and focus on practical steps to implement the Declaration that was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 4, 1986.

The Declaration on the Right to Development defines such right as "an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized."

The Right to Development (RtD) includes full sovereignty over natural resources, self-determination, popular participation in development, equality of opportunity, and the creation of favourable conditions for the enjoyment of other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The human person is identified as the beneficiary of the right to development, as of all human rights.

The right to development can be invoked both by individuals and by peoples. It imposes obligations both on individual States to ensure equal and adequate access to essential resources, and on the international community to promote fair development policies and effective international cooperation.

In view of this, Pillay made an impassioned plea for the RtD being "internalized within societies in all parts of the world". In developing countries as well as among underprivileged groups in developed countries, people must be educated about rights and entitlements, she said.

She added: "There must be a shared understanding that abject poverty and stark inequalities undermine the well being of all. In short, the right to development must be brought much closer to the hearts and minds of people to produce real change in attitudes and actions."

"I believe that together we can carry out these responsibilities which will make a real difference in the daily lives of billions around the world who continue to wait in hope for the realization of their right to development," she told a gathering of civil society and government representatives as well as diplomats at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

Stressing the close link between the UN Declaration and the current situation, Pillay said: "Let us not forget how the current wave of unrest first started. It was triggered by the tragic death of a desperate young man in Tunisia, who set fire to himself because he had lost his livelihood and hope."

The UN human rights chief pointed out that people were taking to the streets because of rampant poverty and inequalities, rising unemployment, a lack of opportunities, and the chronic denial of their economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their civil and political rights.

"They have no regular channels to express their discontent; they are deprived of the benefits arising from the natural resources of their countries, and they cannot meaningfully participate in the decision-making process to change the situation," Pillay argued.

Before arriving in Berlin to address the symposium, Pillay had meetings with the President of the EU Commission, commissioners and ambassadors of EU countries and "found it interesting that they saw how important human rights are for their work."

"I will be watching them very closely to see if that is the case. I particularly enjoyed meeting the EU Commissioner for Development who now sees that all the money they invested could blow up overnight," Pillay said summarizing her meetings in Brussels.

"The right to development not only helps address these root causes, the Declaration also guides our efforts to find sustainable solutions because it puts people at the very heart of development," she said, adding: "The logic of the right to development, as expressed in the Declaration itself, is unassailable: Everyone has the right to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development."

Pillay stressed the relevance of the Declaration in guiding responses to multiple contemporary challenges. "In an increasingly interdependent world, we need responsible diplomacy and principled global governance based on shared duties and the mutual accountability of both developed and developing countries in a spirit of international cooperation, partnership and solidarity," she said.


The constituent elements of the right to development are rooted in the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants of Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as other United Nations instruments.

Through the UN Charter, member states undertook to "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom" and "to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion."

Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights echoes these principles.

A background paper by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that the primary inspiration for the modern articulation of the right to development comes from Judge Keba M'Baye of Senegal, who in 1972 argued that development should be viewed as a right.

He was able to secure a General Assembly resolution in 1977 which authorized a study of the issue and resulted ultimately in the adoption, in 1986, of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, approved by 146 out of the then 159 UN Member States.

The Declaration sets out the particular requirements of the right to development itself, and, by extension, human rights-based development, and these are the requirements:

-- Putting the human person at the centre of development,
-- To ensuring active and meaningful participation,
-- Securing non-discrimination,
-- Fairly distributing the benefits of development,
-- Respecting self-determination, and sovereignty over natural resources, and
-- Informing all processes that advance other civil, political economic, social and cultural rights.

So as a human right, the right to development enhances accountability by virtue of its universality, by placing implementation responsibilities on individual States, and by requiring effective international cooperation in policies and action for development.

Further, the Declaration identifies those obstacles that frustrate the purpose of international cooperation, such as threats to peace and security, foreign domination and racism in all its forms.

Pillay said: "Rampant poverty and stark inequalities that continue to confront the world are affronts to human dignity, and a violation of human rights."

According to the latest UNDP Human Development Report, an estimated one-third of the population in 104 developing countries, or about 1.75 billion people, experience multidimensional poverty. More than half live in South Asia. Rates are highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, with significant variation across regions, groups and indigenous peoples.

The absolute number of malnourished people -- defined by minimal energy consumption -- which stood at 850 million in 1980 has now increased to around 1 billion worldwide.
The UN human rights chief pointed out that hard-won development gains have been reversed as a result of the multiple crises of the last few years, including food shortages, climate change and desertification, as well as the global financial crisis and the ensuing recession.

These upheavals undermined the ability of countries to mobilize resources for development, thus making it more difficult to achieve the internationally agreed upon development goals, most notably the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Even when progress on the MDGs is on track, stigmatized and neglected people, including minorities and people with disabilities, continue to be left behind.

At the same time, democratic deficits and weak governance at the national level, combined with the lack of an enabling international environment for development, continue to prevent full implementation of the right to development.

"Let me be clear: Human aspirations for development and well-being can be realized only when there is a solid national and international accountability framework for development that respects equity and social justice as well as human rights. Such framework includes respect for the rule of law and for universal human rights, democratic participation and good governance. It requires an environment free from want and fear," said Pillay.

Yet, many developing and poor countries lack capacity or face other challenges that prevent them from meeting their primary responsibility for full implementation of human rights, including the right to development.

"They need assistance, and they should get it through networks of bilateral or multilateral solidarity. In turn, such solidarity must produce real and measurable changes on the ground. Positive change can be achieved through a human rights approach to development cooperation which keeps a focus on those who are likely to be most excluded and discriminated against," Pillay argued.

A human rights approach ensures equity and sustainability of development by empowering all people to claim their rights and to be active participants in decisions that affect them, rather than merely being beneficiaries of charity.

Germany has been one of the largest bilateral donors over the past two decades. Its contribution of roughly USD 12 billion in 2009 amounted to approximately 0.35 percent of its Gross National Product (GNP).

"I note that Germany has committed to achieving the internationally agreed target of 0.7 percent of GNP for Official Development Assistance (ODA) to developing countries by 2015 and I am very hopeful that such targets will be met through credible and measurable steps," said Pillay.

To best serve these purposes, she said, policy coherence across institutions, including the UN system, is of paramount importance. "We need to overcome the inhibiting polarization of the debate on development that places the developed countries and the developing world on opposing sides."