Statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Council panel “The way forward in the realization of the right to development: between policy and practice”

Geneva, 14 September 2011

Madame President,
Distinguished Members of the Human Rights Council,
Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I am pleased to participate in this panel event entitled ‘the way forward in the realization of the right to development: between policy and practice”.

Your discussion is a key opportunity to reflect on the hard-won gains of the past years and what lies ahead for making the right to development a reality for everyone.

When we embarked early this year on the programme of commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, there were four simple messages that we sought to emphasize.

The first is that development is a human right for all. As the Arab Spring made absolutely clear, real development is about freedom from fear and freedom from want, for all without discrimination. Economic growth, or private investments, or governmental intervention, or all these factors combined, in and of themselves cannot ensure real and sustainable development. Rather, any successful development policy includes a human rights approach that can shed light on critical vulnerabilities, clarify entitlements, duties and responsibilities of rights holders and duty-bearers, and delineate accountability mechanisms for actions taken or omitted.

We must recall that 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 on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as other United Nations instruments.

The Declaration on the Right to Development puts people and their rights at the center of public policy. It lists and frames the elements that are indispensible to foster such an outcome. These include the right to self-determination, to full sovereignty over natural wealth and resources, as well as participation. In sum, development must aim at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and provide for a fair distribution of benefits, as well as remedies for inequity.

The second message is that this right belongs to everyone, without discrimination; this means all people, wherever they live, and regardless of race, sex, language, or religion. The Declaration in particular makes special reference to the active role of women in the development process. Indeed, no meaningful development can take place when more than half the world’s population is left behind, either because their rights are not integrated in development or because they cannot influence the broader development agenda. This is equally applicable to all other grounds of discrimination. There is a crucial need to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons and other marginalized groups, whose welfare is often bypassed or deliberately forfeited in the pursuit of short-sighted economic growth policies.

In response to my call for global commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the Chairpersons of the UN Treaty Bodies, have already issued important statements. The anniversary folder in front of you contains the text of these statements.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Declaration on the Right to Development is as relevant today as it was on the day it was adopted. Recognizing this, my third message this year is that the right to development responds to contemporary challenges. The current global realities make it abundantly clear that human rights and the human person must be at the centre of development. Poverty remains a widespread and towering challenge. According to the UNDP, an estimated one-third of the population in 104 developing countries, or about 1.75 billion people, experience multidimensional poverty. Scarcity, inadequate economic opportunities and lack of access to basic essential services are exacerbated by entrenched power differentials and stark economic and social inequalities both between and within countries.

Hard-won development achievements have also 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 undermine the ability of many countries to mobilize resources for development, thus making it more difficult to achieve internationally agreed development goals, most notably the MDGs. At the same time, democratic deficits and weak governance at the national level, combined with a lack of international enabling environment for development, continue to prevent full implementation of the right to development.

Let me recall that in 2010, at the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals, the Heads of State and Government reaffirmed the “importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development, the rule of law, gender equality and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development”. The leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the implementation of MDG 8, that is, the promotion of a global partnership for development.

This leads me to emphasize the need to act together. In an interdependent world, we simply have no other choice. We must find solutions together, and jointly commit to implementing them.

The primary responsibility for fostering equitable development rests with States. But the realities of globalization demand the engagement of us all, including United Nations agencies and development actors at the international level. Ultimately, our collective role is to ensure that a global partnership for development truly serves the aspirations of the people themselves as holders of rights and as the legitimate subjects and beneficiaries of development. With an ever-increasing pool of development actors, the need for policy coherence, based on the holistic approach enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development, has never been more evident.

I am pleased to announce here that, at the initiative of my Office, several UN system agencies and other international organizations have endorsed a statement in support of coherence in the implementation of the right to development. Your anniversary folder also contains the full text of this landmark statement with a list of partners.

I trust that this panel event and the excellent speakers, who will address us today, will advance the debate over the realization of the right to development, and will help to bridge the gap between human rights and development in policy and practice. The path ahead is not easy and the common threats we face will test our collective mettle and resolve. Let us take full advantage of the opportunity of this anniversary year to renew and revive our commitment to the Declaration on the Right to Development and to live up to its solemn promise and abundant potential to raise millions from poverty and desperation into dignity and hope.

Thank you.