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Right to Development, a basic human right
September 16, 2017, 2:21 pm

In 2011, on the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had said: “We must end discrimination in the distribution of the benefits of development… We must ensure that people can benefit from their country’s natural resources and participate meaningfully in decision-making… It’s not an act of nature that leaves more than one billion people around the world locked in the jaws of poverty. It’s a result of the denial of their fundamental human right to development."

People are not the how of development — not mere tools which can be exploited to produce greater wealth for limited élites. They are the why. True development roots out and corrects the causes of poverty — the multiple human rights violations which have deprived people of power, control over resources, and a voice in their government, economy and society, and denied equal participation in global governance. True development generates greater social justice, not deeper exploitation; and it reduces the towering inequalities which confiscate the fundamental rights of those who are marginalized and poor,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the 30th anniversary of the Rights to Development.

Despite the lofty words, for millions of people around the world, the right to development continues to remain in the realm of rhetoric.

The 2016 UN Human Development Report says that while there have been significant gains in human development levels in almost every country, millions of people have not benefited from this progress. According to the latest UN Human Development Report, the number of malnourished people has increased from 850 million in 1980 to about 1 billion worldwide today. Despite over thirty years of technological progress and ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources, 150 million more people are now malnourished.


The report adds that rampant poverty and stark inequalities, both within and across countries, serve as a constant reminder that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the fundamental principles of international human rights law it subsequently inspired, and indeed the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development remain empty words for far too many people, especially those belonging to marginalized groups.

In his first report, as the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, Egyptian diplomat Saad Al-Faragi, deplored the international community’s lack of political will to tackle the issues confronted by the world’s poorest.

"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," he said.

"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 aging of the global population, including in developing countries, and the effect is a harsh and worsening impact on the poor.

"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." 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, he added.

The Special Rapporteur said the international community could not even agree on exactly what the right to development meant, or how to measure progress, and the issue had become increasingly politicized.

"This 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," Al-Farargi noted.

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

"The right to development is far from being universally recognized and even further from full implementation," the Special Rapporteur stressed.

The United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 4 December, 1986. The groundbreaking document unequivocally establishes development as a right and puts people at the center of the development process. It proclaims this inalienable right by declaring that everyone is “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 document demanded equal opportunities, and the equitable distribution of economic resources - including for people traditionally marginalized, disempowered and excluded from development, such as women, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, older persons, persons with disabilities and the poor; and for countries at all levels of development, including those most lagging behind.

Yet many people around the world still live in dire need of the fulfillment of their entitlement to a life of dignity, freedom and equal opportunity. The world needs to realize that the right to development is not about charity or humanitarian aid in times of crises; it is about providing the environment that enables and empowers people everywhere, without any form of discrimination.

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