Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun16/02)
27 June 2016
Third World Network
United Nations: Celebrating 30 years of Right to Development
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
(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
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 human person is the central subject of development and should
be the active participant and beneficiary of development (Article
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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. +