Making the right to development a reality for everyone

More than 30 years after the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development, business-as-usual will not be sufficient to achieve progress, a United Nations human rights expert has said.

In his first report to the Human Rights Council since being appointed to the new mandate of Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Mr Saad Alfarargi (of Egypt) said that in order to ensure the implementation of the Declaration, there is need to re-invigorate the advocacy process. In a landmark resolution adopted at its thirty-third session in September 2016, the Council decided to establish the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development for a period of three years.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur includes amongst others to contribute "to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the right to development" in the context of the coherent and integrated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other internationally agreed outcomes of 2015. These include the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

At its thirty-fourth session (27 February to 24 March 2017), the Council appointed Saad Alfarargi as the Special Rapporteur on the right to development and he formally took up his position on 1 May 2017. The Council is currently holding its regular thirty-sixth session here from 11-29 September. In his first report to the Council, the Special Rapporteur underlined that the right to development is not just a declaration or a topic for political debate within the United Nations or political forums.

The reality outside these forums is that of billions of people who are in need of improvements in their lives and who are entitled to have their human rights, including the right to development, realized, he said. The particular value of the right to development is that it shifts the focus away from statistics and goods to the well-being of people.

Only when people have access to education, when they are allowed to work in a profession of their choice, when they have access to financial services, health care and housing, when they can fully and fairly participate in shaping the policies that govern their lives, are they able to lead lives to their full potential.

The right to development brings to the discussion the paradigm of choice - the right of every human being to participate in, to contribute to and to enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in order to achieve sustainable development.

"More than 30 years after the right to development was established in a UN declaration, millions of people around the world are living with the consequences of the failure to deliver it," Mr Alfarargi said, in a UN news release.

"Negative global trends have their harshest impacts on the poorest sections of society. People are feeling the impact of the global financial and economic crisis, the energy and climate crisis, and an increasing number of natural disasters."

"Add to that the new global pandemics, corruption, the privatization of public services, austerity, and the ageing of the global population, including in developing countries, and the effect is a harsh and worsening impact on the poor," he added.

"We are witnessing some of the greatest challenges the world has ever seen, without the global commitment to deliver change. People in developing countries are paying a heavy price for global actions beyond their control."

The Special Rapporteur said that people in Africa, in the world's least developed countries, and in developing countries that were either landlocked or small islands were losing out the most.

"Too many people are unaware that the right to development even exists. We need to raise this low level of awareness, from grassroots organisations to governments, and make sure they are all fully engaged in implementing it."

"There is an urgent need to make the right to development a reality for everyone," he added.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur provided some historical background on the right to development, noting that the right to development was first mentioned in 1966, when then-Foreign Minister of Senegal, Doudou Thiam, referred to the right to development of the "Third World" before the General Assembly.

Reflecting on the decades of failure of States to meet the goals of the first United Nations Development Decade, he linked that failure to the failure of newly decolonized States to resolve the growing economic imbalance between the developing and developed worlds.

The Declaration on the Right to Development was adopted by the General Assembly on 4 December 1986.

Right to development in four key policy documents 

In 2015, the right to development was explicitly recognized in four key internationally agreed policy documents: the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development; the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030; "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", which included the Sustainable Development Goals; and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Special Rapporteur noted that while the Declaration on the Right to Development is not in itself legally binding, many of its provisions are mirrored in legally binding instruments, such as the Charter of the United Nations and the International Covenants on Human Rights; and principles such as non-discrimination and State sovereignty are also part of customary international law, which is binding on all States.

The 2030 Agenda is explicitly grounded in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties.

The key principles of the Declaration on the Right to Development are reaffirmed throughout the Agenda, which recognizes the need to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights (including the right to development), on effective rule of law and good governance at all levels and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions.

"The right to development can and should be used as a guiding concept when measuring progress in the implementation of the new policy framework for sustainable development," said Mr Alfarargi.

"The Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity to galvanize global and local action and resources to implement universal goals and targets that could contribute substantially to the promotion and implementation of the right to development."

The rights expert noted that in one of the guiding principles for the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (para. 19 (c) of the Framework), it is stated that managing the risk of disasters is aimed at protecting persons and their property, health, livelihoods and productive assets, as well as cultural and environmental assets, while promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development.

People across the world are increasingly exposed to natural disasters, the effects of which destroy development efforts and reduce entire regions to poverty. Poverty and vulnerability to disasters are closely linked: low-income countries, in particular the poor and disadvantaged groups within them, are typically more vulnerable to and disproportionately affected by disasters. "The implementation of the right to development is, therefore, closely interlinked with disaster risk reduction," said the Special Rapporteur.

The Special Rapporteur recalled that in the opening paragraph of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives gathered in Addis Ababa for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development referred to the right to development.

They specifically stated that their goal was to end poverty and hunger and to achieve sustainable development through promoting inclusive economic growth, protecting the environment and promoting social inclusion, and that they committed to respecting all human rights, including the right to development.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda are closely intertwined; the former is referred to in the latter as an integral part of the 2030 Agenda, and it has been affirmed that the full implementation of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda is critical for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and targets.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda is explicitly linked to the means of implementation targets established under Goal 17 and under each specific Sustainable Development Goal, in that it is recognized as supporting, complementing and helping to contextualize those targets. The targets under Goal 17 operationalize the Addis Ababa Action Agenda commitments in the areas of finance, technology, capacity-building, trade and systemic issues.

The rights expert further said that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its assessments of climate change, which are based on the work of hundreds of scientists from all over the world, has repeatedly confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause.

Extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases are some of the grim results of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly affect the enjoyment of a range of human rights, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination and culture, as well as the right to development.

It was recognized in the preamble of the Paris Agreement that the parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, including the right to development.

The Special Rapporteur also pointed to a raft of Human Rights Council resolutions as well as other global, regional and national instruments where the right to development is mentioned. For instance, in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is recognized that indigenous peoples have the right to development.

In article 33 of the Charter of the Organization of American States, it is stated that development is a primary responsibility of each country and should constitute an integral and continuous process for the establishment of a more just economic and social order that will make possible and contribute to the fulfilment of the individual.

The 53 States parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights are legally bound to ensure the exercise of the right to development, which is included in article 22 of that Charter. In addition, the right to development is recognized in the Arab Charter on Human Rights as a fundamental human right, while the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Human Rights Declaration contains a section on the right to development.

Challenges to the right to development

The Special Rapporteur went on to highlight some of the major challenges for the realization of the right to development.

The Special Rapporteur said that through informal consultations with permanent missions, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations, he has become aware of numerous concerns that require further study, including:

1. Politicization: Despite the fact that more than 30 years have passed since the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development, views among States are still divided.

The European Union has asked for further clarity on the right. There are disagreements on the nature of the duties of States to realize the right to development and on the relative emphasis to be placed on the national dimension of State obligations (individual rights and corresponding State responsibilities, rule of law, good governance, combating of corruption) as compared to obligations of international cooperation (international responsibilities, international order, development cooperation, global governance).

There are also differences of opinion among States regarding criteria for measuring progress towards implementing the right to development.

The above conceptual differences have often resulted in a lack of sufficient momentum in the intergovernmental debate at the relevant United Nations forums, such as the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the Working Group on the Right to Development.

2. Lack of engagement: The political divide has resulted in a low level of engagement of United Nations agencies and civil society in promoting, protecting and fulfilling the right to development.

The Special Rapporteur said despite the progressive evolution of the concept of the right to development and its inclusion in some international and regional instruments and national constitutions, the general level of awareness and engagement for its implementation are low.

Progress in development has been uneven, particularly for people in Africa, least developed countries, land-locked developing countries and small island developing States, and in developing countries more generally.

In addition, the low level of awareness of the right to development among grassroots organizations further hampers advocacy efforts.

3. Adverse global trends: The implementation of the right to development faces numerous other challenges: the global financial and economic crisis, the energy and climate crisis, the increasing number of natural disasters, the new global pandemics, the increase in automation in many sectors, corruption, illicit financial flows, the privatization of public services, austerity and other measures, and the ageing of the global population, including in developing countries.

There is a growing demand for resources for the realization of the right to development. The rise of nationalistic tendencies and the related trend to move away from international solidarity and cooperation may further weaken international governance.

Addressing these challenges will require the concerted effort of all relevant stakeholders, both at national and at international levels, he said.

The mandate and focus areas of work 

The Special Rapporteur noted that the history of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals suggests that minorities and indigenous peoples have progressed at a slower rate and that, for these already disadvantaged groups, existing inequalities have been exacerbated as others have benefited from interventions.

He said indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups, in particular in developing countries, have a stake in the implementation of the right to development and sustainable development processes and should not be left behind. At the same time, international and national efforts to implement the right to development have not been successful in fully integrating a gender perspective.

In implementing his mandate, the Special Rapporteur said that he will advocate for the inclusion of the most disadvantaged groups in all international and national forums linked to the implementation of the right to development and related sustainable development processes. He also aims to pay special attention to the gender dimension in his work, considering, in the first instance, the developmental challenges that women and girls face in most societies.

According to the rights expert, these challenges are many, ranging from laws that give unequal access to land and other resources, to development or disaster reduction policies that do not provide women with access to education and financing to develop their businesses or even enough food to feed their children and that do not ensure basic services, such as health care and housing.

He noted that when establishing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, the Human Rights Council emphasized the urgent need to make the right to development a reality for everyone.

The Special Rapporteur said that he sees his role as ensuring that the right to development remains a focus in the global discourse on the post-2015 development agenda.

Mr Alfarargi said that he will work to ensure that the right to development, and indeed all human rights, are recognized as an integral part of the sustainable development discourse, while emphasizing that development should happen in accordance with human rights principles and with the goal of achieving the realization of the right to development for all, rather than simply for economic growth.

"While economic growth is important, it is a quantitative and value-neutral concept that can have both negative and positive impacts on people's lives. Development, on the other hand, is a qualitative concept; including the human rights dimension is crucial to assessing the actual success of human development," he said.


Kanaga Raja is the editor of the South North Development Monitor (SUNS). 
 
Further resources:

The Right to Development at 30 Years: Current global issues that are important for implementing the Right to Development
https://www.southcentre.int/question/the-right-to-development-at-30-years-current-global-issues-that-are-important-for-implementing-the-right-to-development/

South Centre South Bulletin 93
The Right to Development at 30: Looking Back and Forwards
The Right to Development has had great resonance with people worldwide since it was adopted by the UN General Assembly 30 years ago.  It establishes the right of people to take part in the development process and to equitably enjoy the benefits of development.  Today this right is even more relevant, as the world faces manifold crises.
Available here: https://www.southcentre.int/south-bulletin-93-16-august-2016/#more-8860

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to development - Note by the Secretariat (A/HRC/36/49) 2 August 2017
https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/G1722968.pdf

36th Regular Session Human Rights Council - ID: Right to Development - 9th Meeting
14 Sep 2017 - Interactive dialogue (ID) with: Special Rapporteur on the right to development A/HRC/36/49
http://webtv.un.org/watch/-id-right-to-development-9th-meeting-36th-regular-session-human-rights-council-/5575846606001/

Original source: SUNS - South North Development Monitor

Image credit: United Naitons Human Rights, flickr creative commons