Opening statement by the High Commissioner for the Book launch

4 December 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When ‘The Peoples of the United Nations’ came together under our founding Charter, they did so in a spirit of hope. They spoke in one voice to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of women and men and of nations large and small. They committed to establish conditions under which justice and respect for international legal obligations could be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

Building on this principled edifice, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and affirmed that all are entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms in the Declaration could be fully realized.

Today we celebrate another milestone along this course. When the General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Right to Development on the 4th of December 1986, it consecrated the right of all individuals and peoples to the constant improvement of their wellbeing. To the majority of the world’s peoples, the Declaration meant a new-found freedom from the shackles of colonialism, and the resurgence of hope. The Declaration revolutionized the idea of development, presenting a transformative vision which entitled everyone to participate fully and to share equitably.

Regrettably, since then, we have tended to veer along another path, ignoring this vision. Economic growth became essentially the sole end of development. Control of the direction of economic activity slipped further and further into the invisible hands of markets and private sector actors, and further and further away from the imperatives of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights. Market-led globalization superseded development, and human rights became submerged. The limited vistas of conventional wisdom on development policy permitted the dramatic rise of poverty and inequality; interconnected threats, challenges and crises; and an ecological habitat which has crossed the tolerance threshold of nature. Today, entire populations of small islands in distant places fear for their very survival.

The right to development belongs to all 7 billion of our earth’s inhabitants, but, for over a third of humanity living in poverty, it remains an elusive dream. Its promise of access to basic resources has not been kept for the 842 million people who do not have enough to eat, 98 percent of whom live in developing countries; or for the 1.7 billion with no access to clean water. A favourable global environment would have meant access to medicines for the many people living with HIV/AIDS, with 88 percent of all children and 60 percent of all women living with HIV residing in sub-Saharan Africa. Individually and collectively, we have failed in our duties to the 240,000 women who die from childbirth each year and the 7 million children who need not die from malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia, but do.

Equitable trade and investment policies have the potential to uplift the lives of many. 75 percent of the world’s poorest people, 1.4 billion women, children and men live in rural areas and depend on agriculture. With the convergence of the multiple crises in an interconnected world, poverty is also changing its face, with millions in developed countries falling into its grasp over the last few years.

When land-grabs and the demands of mega-development projects lead to the displacement of entire communities, without their participation – free, active and meaningful – in the decision-making process, their right to development is flagrantly violated. So too, when indigenous or nomadic peoples are removed from their way of life and livelihoods in favour of so called ‘development’.

Millions of people, among them many youth, are deprived of employment even in the world’s most advanced economies, and in others which are newly emerging. Older people – a rapidly growing demographic situated in all regions – are often shut out, deprived and forgotten. The right to development, if implemented, guarantees to them all equality of opportunity, fair distribution of the benefits of development, and fair distribution of income. National development policies envisioned under this right should not permit any form of discrimination – and should eliminate the seeds of discontent, which breed violence and conflict. When women are finally able to play a fully active role in the development process, including through political participation, we will be enriched by the contributions of over half of humanity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, we launch our newest publication, ‘Realizing the right to development’. This book celebrates the right to development, and highlights our efforts to re-vitalize, advance understanding of, and ultimately, fully realize this right. I welcome the distinguished panellists who join me today and I thank the editors and authors, and welcome all present.

The publication clarifies the role of the right to development in re-designing our efforts to enhance development and governance, including in the Post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. This right is at the centre of our advocacy for a post-2015 agenda for sustainable development that is respectful of all human rights.

The fundamental changes taking place around us, including the resounding worldwide calls for democracy, human rights and responsible governance and institutions, will in all likelihood continue to shift the ground beneath our feet. In an evolving era of multi-stakeholder governance, in an increasingly interdependent world, responsible stewardship for present and future generations is our duty, as an international community.

We must now liberate the right to development from the conceptual fog and political distortions that have for too long impeded its implementation. Here let me recall the words of Wangari Maathai, Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize and she said: “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground …. That time is now.”

Thank you very much.