Opening statement of Ms. Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Working Group on the Right to Development - The Fourteenth Annual Session, Geneva 13 May 2013

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am pleased to address the fourteenth session of the Working Group on the Right to Development.

As we commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights, it is right that we recall the importance that the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action placed on the right to development.

In our rapidly changing world, we face fundamental challenges: climate change, environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity impacts heavily on the human rights of present and future generations; rising inequalities within emerging and settled economies still leave vast numbers of people in abject poverty; demographic changes and the changing contours of geo-political and economic relations, as well as multiple crises, place new demands on governance at all levels and call for coherent and human rights-based policies.

Three overarching themes were at the heart of the Vienna World Conference: the universality of human rights, the importance of democratic participation, and the imperative of development.

One of the main outcomes at the institutional level for strengthening human rights was the creation of the post of a United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and as you all know the promotion and protection of the right to development is explicitly inserted in my mandate.

Real democratic participation can be measured by the extent to which – in the words of the Declaration on the Right to Development – active, free and meaningful participation determines policy and law. The global conversation about post-2015 development goals is an important opportunity for meaningful popular participation in global governance. From our participation in the process leading up to the post-2015 development agenda, it has become clear that people expect us to articulate human rights — including the right to development — in clear and practical terms and at the heart of the new agenda.

Distinguished delegates,

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action underscored that human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. Among those rights, it reaffirmed the right to development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.

And the World Conference reminded us that the lack of development may not be invoked to justify abridging internationally recognized human rights.

Since Vienna, the right to development has been reaffirmed time and again in numerous resolutions of the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council and included in several major political declarations. It has also been included in the 2004 Arab Charter on Human Rights, the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration. In 2010 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights found a violation of the right to development in the Endorois case, making it clear that the right to development applies to indigenous peoples and that it can be justiciable.

The right to development is not confined to declarations, summit outcomes or political debates within the United Nations. The Arab Spring, the Occupy movements and mass protests against austerity measures call for the right to development: for accountable, democratic, economic and political governance under the rule of law – at both the national and international levels – with the paramount mission of ensuring freedom from fear and want.

Distinguished delegates,

The Declaration on the Right to Development enshrines a comprehensive, human-centered development paradigm that aims at the improvement of human well-being for all. It recognizes that every human person is entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy a development process in which all human rights can be fully realized.

This should be at the core of the post-2015 development agenda. Undoubtedly, equality matters, the environment matters and human rights matter. Therefore the post-2015 development agenda must be a global agenda, based on the universal norms recognized in international human rights instruments and with universal objectives.

In line with the Declaration on the Right to Development, the post-2015 development agenda must advance equity – the fair distribution of the benefits of development. And it must advance equality of opportunity in access to basic resources, as well as non-discrimination – with regard to the enjoyment of human rights. 

We urgently need to strengthen modes of international cooperation and global governance to ensure greater equality, higher levels of democratic participation and accountability, and fuller coherence with international human rights standards.

We look to this Working Group to reflect and guide the international community on how to position the right to development in the post-2015 development agenda. In further exploring the parameters of the right to development, and of any governance and accountability mechanism; by clearly spelling out accountabilities; your work can go a long way in informing the debates on the post-2015 development goals.

I am very pleased to note – despite the obvious differences – that a constructive and collaborative spirit prevailed at the informal inter-sessional meeting and at your last session of this Working Group. This gives us all hope that the common challenges of the present are emerging clearly as greater than the differences of the past. Rest assured of the full support of my Office in your work ahead.

I thank you for your attention and wish you a very fruitful debate.