TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun16/02)
27 June 2016
Third World Network

United Nations: Celebrating 30 years of Right to Development Declaration
Published in SUNS #8264 dated  17 June 2016

Geneva, 16 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday (15 June) commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

To mark this occasion, a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of the right to development was held during the current thirty-second session of the Human Rights Council (13 June-1 July).

The panellists included Ambassador Amr Ramadan of Egypt (the moderator); Ms Flavia Piovesan, Secretary for Human Rights in the Ministry of Justice of Brazil; Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica; Mr Mihir Kanade, Head of the Department of International Law and Human Rights and Director of the Human Rights Centre, at the UN-mandated University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica; and Mr Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre.

An opening statement was made by Mr Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, following a video presentation marking the thirtieth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

In his opening remarks, the UN High Commissioner said: "We are here to celebrate the Declaration on the Right to Development, which thirty years ago broke new ground in the struggle for greater freedom, equality and justice."

It acclaimed long-lost freedoms and independence, and re-asserted equality for all nations and peoples -- including their right to self-determination and their right to sovereignty over natural resources.

But the Declaration's central focus was on the human person. Placing individuals at the heart of the development process, it called for every member of society to be empowered to participate fully and freely in vital decisions.

It demanded equal opportunities, and the equitable distribution of economic resources, including for people traditionally marginalised, disempowered and excluded from development, such as women, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, older persons, persons with disabilities and the poor.

Bridging human rights with international relations, and building on the intrinsic interactions of human rights and development with peace and security, the Declaration demanded better governance of the international economic framework and re-defined development as far deeper, broader and more complex than the narrow, growth-and- profit focus of previous decades.

"The wisdom of this multi-dimensional approach has stood the test of time. Today, the local and the global have become ever more connected, and from communication technology to climate change, global supply and value chains to access to medicines, the right to development is manifestly relevant," said Mr Al Hussein.

Amid today's slow global economic growth and low commodity prices, this thirtieth anniversary should remind the international community of development's true purpose: to improve the well-being of all members of society.

True development generates greater social justice, not deeper exploitation; and it reduces the towering inequalities which confiscate the fundamental rights of those who are marginalised and poor, he said.

The High Commissioner noted that some progress has been made in global efforts towards realising the vision of the Declaration on the right to development.

But that progress has been uneven, particularly for people in Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, small island developing States, and most other developing countries, as well as for disadvantaged people in both the Global North and South.

"Insufficiently regulated globalization, persistent poverty and rising inequalities continue to rob people of their rights, and they fuel multiple crises and conflicts. That violence in turn destroys hard-won development progress, and kills and displaces people wantonly, in a terrible downward spiral of avoidable suffering."

In contrast, the UN High Commissioner said, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development and the Paris Climate Agreement set forth detailed and realistic programmes that build on each other with the potential to transform the realisation of human rights for millions of people.

"The 2030 Agenda, which promises to end extreme poverty within our generation, promotes an integrated vision of development with responsibilities that are shared by both the global North and South. This vision is clearly born of the Declaration on the right to development, which offers much needed prevention, since it promises solutions for root causes, including structural challenges, at all levels."

Most evidently, said the High Commissioner, the right to development forcefully calls for individuals to be free to participate in vital decisions.

"At the international level, it addresses multiple challenges which originate in our failure to adequately regulate globalization."

The engines of globalization - among them, trade, investment, finance, and intellectual property - must be made compatible with the human rights obligations of States.

Global development cannot mean that people are denied access to essential medicines, that small-farmers are denied fair earnings, or that already impoverished people are further burdened with unsustainable national debt.

Thus, the 2030 Agenda addresses many of these systemic obstructions that disadvantage the poor - among them, distorted trade frameworks and weak international governance over powerful transnational actors, including the vectors of financial speculation.

The High Commissioner said it promises better regulation of global financial markets, and an enhanced voice for developing countries in international economic and financial institutions.

"It commits all States to cooperate in fostering international development and endorses the principle of special and differential treatment for developing countries, in particular least developed countries."

Mr Al Hussein underscored that the 2030 Agenda is a child of the right to development. As such, it must not be stunted by indifferent action, malnourished by failed commitments or denied safe passage to its fullest realization.

"But the right to development extends even beyond the massive global agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals. It offers a framework in which to address gaps and failures in responsibility, accountability and regulation in both national and global governance."

He emphasised that trade and investment policies and agreements can have profound implications on the realisation of human rights, with potential adverse impacts in relation to food, water and sanitation, health, indigenous persons, equity and democratic decision-making.

Both within the multilateral context and increasingly in bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements, "we are also seeing similar regulations relating to services, intellectual property, investment and trade-plus issues."

"Recently, sprawling modern pacts known as mega-regionals have begun changing the landscapes of trade and investment in quite unprecedented ways."

The High Commissioner underlined that the right to development guides the international community, and individual States, to ensure human rights in this context.

"The thirtieth anniversary of the Declaration on the right to development must renew in us the spirit of multilateral action for the common good - which is our only hope for survival on this small and fragile planet that we share," he concluded.

The moderator of the panel discussion, Ambassador Ramadan of Egypt, said that today "we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development as an inalienable and independent human right which encompasses a diverse myriad of economic, social, cultural, and political rights."

However, the progress achieved thus far in the realisation of the right to development has been uneven as is demonstrated in Africa, the Middle East, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land Locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

He noted that the past year has witnessed the adoption of three important instruments that pave the way for realizing the vision once embodied in the Declaration on the Right to Development, namely, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the Paris climate change agreement.

Ambassador Ramadan said that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development constitutes an important vehicle for the realisation of the right to development.

He posed the following six questions aimed at guiding the debate:

(1) What is the anticipated role of the UN system in particular human rights mechanisms in the implementation and realisation of the right to development?

(2) What is the expected contribution on the part of the UN system in overcoming the existing challenges to the realisation of the right to development as an independent and distinct right?

(3) What role can international cooperation play in the realisation of the objectives enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development?

(4) How do you perceive the contribution of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda in the implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development with a view to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for all?

(5) How can the right to development be operationalised to create an environment conducive to achieving the SDGs in particular Goal 17 on strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development?

(6) What ways and means can be pursued to integrate, claim and build capacity on the right to development among all stakeholders?

In his statement at the panel discussion, Mr Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, highlighted some of the current global issues that are important in implementing the Declaration on the Right to Development.

He said that it is appropriate to celebrate this anniversary of the adoption by the UN General Assembly in 1986 of the Declaration on the Right to Development which is now 30 years old.

According to Khor, the right to development has had great resonance among people all over the world, including in developing and poor countries. Even the term itself "the right to development" carries a great sense and weight of meaning and of hope.

It is fitting to recall some of the important elements of this right to development, Khor said. It is human and people centered.

It is a human right, where every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy development in which all rights and freedoms can be fully realized (Article 1.1 of the Declaration).

The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of development (Article 2.1).

It gives responsibility to each state to get its act together to take measures to get its people's right to development fulfilled, said Khor, citing Article 2.3 of the Declaration.

But it also places great importance to the international arena, giving a responsibility to all countries to cooperate internationally and especially to assist the developing countries (Articles 3.3, 4.1 and 4.2).

Thus, it recognises that international relations and rules have important roles. And it implicitly recognises that there are imbalances and inequities in the existing international order that hinder countries from implementing the right to development.

Therefore, it calls for a new international order, said Khor, citing Article 3.3 of the Declaration.

Citing Article 6 of the Declaration, Khor said the right to development is also practical. It calls for the realisation of the right to development. It recognises that there are obstacles to the realisation of the right to development.

It also recognises that there are international-level obstacles and national-level obstacles, and encourages all parties and stakeholders to identify these obstacles and to act to remove these obstacles. The international obstacles obviously require international cooperation to address them.

On this 30th anniversary of the Declaration, it is useful to make use of the practical relevance of the Right to Development by elaborating on some of the key global issues of our present times, and how they affect the right to development, said the statement.

Khor highlighted five such issues in his statement, the first being the global economy in crisis. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies. With commodity prices down, many commodity-dependent developing countries are facing reduced export earnings.

Many countries have had to endure great fluctuations in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital flows. Currencies are fluctuating due to lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Growth rates have fallen in Africa and elsewhere and some countries are on the brink of another debt crisis.

There is for them an absence of an international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism, and countries that do their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

All these become challenges for maintaining development, and are obstacles to the right to development, and need addressing, he said.

The second global issue relates to the challenges of implementing appropriate development strategies.

Khor said that developing countries that aspire to achieve sustained economic growth and sustainable economic development face many challenges in formulating and implementing policies that work. There are challenges in getting policies right in agricultural production, ensuring adequate livelihoods and incomes for small farmers, and national food security.

Countries that aim to industrialise face the challenges of climbing the ladder from starting viable low-cost industries to establishing labour-intensive industries to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap.

Then there are the challenges to build a range of services, including providing social services like health and education and water supply, lighting and transport, developing financial services and commerce.

These sectoral policies and the overall policy are even more difficult to formulate and implement due to the trend of liberalisation and the dangers of premature liberalisation as a result of loan conditionality and recently due to trade and investment agreements which also constrain policy space.

In particular, said Khor, investment agreements that contain the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system enable foreign investors to take advantage of imbalanced provisions and great shortcomings in the arbitration system that not only cause countries a lot of costs but also put a chill or constraint on the ability to make policy.

There is an increasing legitimacy problem for the investment rules regime. These challenges and obstacles to development policymaking should be addressed including through processes in the right to development.

Third, climate change has become an existential problem for the human race. Khor said that climate change is an outstanding or even an ultimate example of an environmental constraint to development and the right to development.

In 2014 the IPCC's 5th Assessment Report gave the sobering figure that there is atmospheric space to absorb Greenhouse Gases of only another 1,000 billion tonnes for a reasonable chance of avoiding global warming of 2 degrees Celsius.

Anything above that would be a devastating disaster. Global emissions are running at 50 billion tonnes a year. Within two decades the atmospheric space would be filled up.

"If the aim is to keep warming to 1.5 degrees, we have little more than a decade left. Therefore, there is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible."

In seeking a solution, one key question is which country and which groups within countries should cut emissions by how much?

The danger is that the burden will mainly be passed on to developing and poorer countries and to the poor and vulnerable in each country. A global agreement and national agreements to tackle climate change have to be environmentally ambitious, socially fair and economically viable.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 succeeded in showing the ability to reach a multilateral deal on an issue that threatens human survival.

But it is not ambitious enough to save humanity, and it also does not demonstrate that the promise of transfers of finance and technology to developing countries will take place.

The celebration of reaching an agreement has to give way to the sobering challenge of doing much more within a few years. The question is how the objective urgency of the situation can be met by measures that are equitable and economically feasible.

This is a major challenge to development and the realisation of the right to development, said the statement.

Fourthly, Khor said that the crisis of anti-microbial resistance brings dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Another possible existential issue that is less known is antibiotic resistance or more broadly anti-microbial resistance.

Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials.

Some strains of bacteria are now resistant to multiple antibiotics and a few have become pan-resistant - resistant to all antibiotics.

There is also the special danger in the discovery of the existence of two genes (MCR-1 and NDM-1) with the frightening ability to easily spread resistance to other species of bacteria.

MCR-1 has been found to be resistant to colistin, a very powerful antibiotic usually used only as a last resort, and another danger is its ability to spread resistance from one type of bacterium to other bacteria. NDM-1 is another gene with the ability to jump from one bacteria to other species, making them highly resistant to all known drugs, except two.

In 2010, only two types of bacteria were found to be hosting the NDM-1 gene - E Coli and Klebsiella pneumonia. Within a few years, NDM-1 had been found in more than 20 different species of bacteria.

Khor said that actions needed include better surveillance, measures to drastically reduce the over-use and wrong use of antibiotics including control over unethical marketing of drugs, control of the use of antibiotics in livestock, public education, and discovery of new antibiotics.

Fifthly, Khor highlighted the challenges of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. A special challenge is the extent to which the ambitious Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals can be fulfilled.

There is a close connection between the Right to Development and the SDGs. Fulfilling the SDGs would go a long way to realising the right to development. The SDGs include some very ambitious and idealistic goals and targets. Yet there are obstacles for many countries and people to fulfil these.

Citing Goal 3 which is "to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages," Khor said that one of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it.

The financing of health is thus a major challenge, he said. It becomes more of an obstacle when treatment is unnecessarily expensive.

One problem is when medicines are priced very high and out of reach of the poor or even the middle class, he said.

The treatment for HIV/AIDS became more widespread and affordable only when generics were made more and more available at cheaper and cheaper prices, for example, $60 a patient a year as compared to the original prices of $10,000 or $15,000, and millions of lives have been saved.

A similar situation has arisen for patients of Hepatitis C where the original price of a new drug with nearly 100% cure rate is $84,000 in the US and 56,000 euro in Europe for a 12-week course of treatment, whereas generics can be produced and sold for less than $1,000 (in some cases around $600) in a number of developing countries.

Similar wide price comparisons can be made for drugs to treat cancer and other diseases and for the new category of drugs known as biologics, many of which are priced at above $100,000 in the US.

According to the statement, the issue of patents, over-pricing of original drugs, and the need to make generic drugs more available, is relevant to the fulfilment of SDGs, to universal health coverage, and the realisation of the right to development and the right to health.

According to Khor, obtaining adequate means of implementation entails international cooperation in at least three areas: (1) the provision of finance and technology to developing countries, including to assist them to fulfil the SDGs;
(2) establishing appropriate international rules in trade, finance, investment, intellectual property and technology; (3) when formulating their domestic policies, policymakers in developed countries are sensitive to and take account of the interests and needs of people in developing countries.

In his statement, Mr Kanade of the University for Peace said that if we are to realistically implement the SDGs as envisioned by the 2030 Agenda, then operationalizing the Right to Development is indeed indispensable and the only way forward.

He highlighted six specific points as to what operationalizing the Right to Development for implementation of the SDGs would entail.

Firstly, this requires focusing not only on the outcomes which must result from the implementation of the 2030 agenda, but equally on the processes by which those outcomes must be achieved.

This includes, of course, participation of all stakeholders, as well as respecting the policy space of States and their people in determining and implementing their own development priorities.

Secondly, operationalizing Right to Development means that development, in order to be sustainable, must not be seen as a charity, privilege or generosity, but as a right of human beings everywhere, who are the central subjects of development and should be the active participants and beneficiaries of the right to development.

Thirdly, he said, understanding that development is not a charity, privilege or generosity also means clearly acknowledging that all States are duty-bearers with respect to Right to Development.

He said this duty extends not only internally towards their own citizens, but also beyond the States' borders and permeates through international decision-making at international organizations, including the UN, World Bank, IMF, and the WTO.

Thus, for instance, States would clearly be failing in their obligations if they create international conditions unfavourable to the realization of the Right to Development through the lending policies they support at the IMF or World Bank, or through WTO rules.

In fact, WTO rules are explicitly required to be framed with the objective of promoting sustainable development by the very terms of the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, he said.

Fourthly, operationalizing the Right to Development means insisting on a comprehensive, multidimensional and holistic approach to development as a human right. Fifthly, operationalizing Right to Development means going beyond a human rights-based approach to development.

Finally, he said, operationalising Right to Development for the implementation of SDGs means ensuring that the indicators for the SDGs and the targets are compatible with the objective of making the right to development a reality for everyone.

This includes ensuring that there are clear, quantifiable indicators for both national and international action, with appropriate benchmarks for each of the SDGs, and most importantly, for Goal 17.

Ambassador Wayne McCook of Jamaica, who is also the Chairman of the G77 and China, began his presentation by quoting philosopher and activist Bob Marley who had said, "them belly full but we hungry, a hungry mob is an angry mob".

He spoke on the legitimacy and rights enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development and the consequences for the global development agenda.

Ambassador McCook posed the following questions: "As human beings, to what are we entitled? With what do we survive and through what can we be free to live in dignity as individuals and in community? Should the rights we agree be limited to the ability to breathe, to speak, to listen and to move freely or is there more? Should we collectively agree that all human beings have a right to more than survival or simply to being alive?"

"Yes, we have," he said. "We have agreed a body of globally accepted rights encompassing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and instruments that lay a foundation on which we base our promotion and protection of fundamental human rights."

"We have agreed a right to development," he stressed. "Having agreed these rights we cannot simply assume that the task is done... We must commit to taking the steps without which these cannot be secured and it is for these reasons that we have recognised that the right to development must be promoted and protected by all."

And in this context, he said, the elaboration of a holistic approach to sustainable development aligns with the fundamental goals of the right to development.

Ms Piovesan from the Brazilian Ministry of Justice posed two questions: How to understand the conceptual basis and the legal framework of the right to development? What are the central attributes - the central components - of the right to development from a human rights approach?

Thirty years ago the UN adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development establishing the framework that provides individuals and peoples both domestically and globally the right to an equitable, sustainable and participatory development in accordance with the full range of human rights and fundamental freedoms, she said.

The incorporation of the human rights-based approach to development is among the greatest achievements of the UN Declaration in 1986.

Since then, this approach has guided the integration of norms, standards and principles of the international human rights system into the plans, policies and process of development, including the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, she added. +