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14 October 2011

The 2011 Social Forum on the Right to Development concludes

On 3-5 October 2011, the United Nations Office of the High-Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) organized the 2011 Social Forum under the theme: “The promotion and effective realization of the right to development, in the context of the commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development.” The Social Forum is a subsidiary body of the Human Rights Council which meets once a year to discuss a pre-designated theme aligned with the promotion of social cohesion and justice in the face of on-going globalization. It aims to serve as “a unique space for interactive dialogue between the United Nations human rights machinery and various stakeholders, including grassroots organizations,” and is open to representatives of Member States, intergovernmental organizations, regional economic commissions, non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and other non-governmental organizations whose aims and purposes are in conformity with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

In the opening session of the Forum, Minelik Alemu Getahun, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Forum, remarked that the right to development resonates with the complexities of the multiple challenges presently confronted by the global community, such as the global economic and environmental crises. Against this backdrop, right to development, with its inclusive nature, can provide a guideline to our responses to the crises by placing people at the center of our actions, he stressed. Marcia V.J. Kran, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division, OHCHR, introduced OHCHR’s background report for the Forum. She also highlighted the importance of civil society engagement in ensuring the full integration of the right to development in policies at all levels; the necessity to put in place appropriate mechanisms that will ensure people’s participation in national and international decision-making; and the vital role of civil society in identifying the challenges to the realization of the right to development.

The ensued panel discussions comprised the following themes:

• development challenges and futures;

• the Declaration on the Right to Development at 25;

• legal and social action strategies and the right to development;

• social justice and the right to development;

• innovative approaches to participation and accountability in development;

• international institutional framework: an enabling environment for the right to development?; and

• financing for development. Find below brief summaries of each session.

Development challenges and futures

The panel addressed the challenges that lie ahead in the realization of the right to development: garnering adequate finance to ensure climate justice; maximizing aid effectiveness and devising a new development framework and embedding the right to development more firmly in practices of international law and international relations. Antonio Tujan Jr., Co-Chair of Better Aid explained his expectations for the upcoming Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, which he saw as a venue to discuss the systemic ways to enhance aid effectiveness at the global level, and more importantly, as a venue to forge a new framework for development cooperation among State and non-State actors. On anchoring the right to development in international law, Karin Arts of the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, quoted the Convention of the Rights of the Child as an already successful legal instrument that “strikes a fine balance between national and international obligations” to realize the rights for children around the world. She further suggested that the global community should start recognizing “existing binding international law relevant to the Right to Development,” and mobilize support for this right by invoking it more systematically and vocally. During the discussion, a representative of CIVICUS also underscored the imperative to fully ensure the right to participation, pointing out that the population that is most deprived of the right to development is those whose voices are most unheard.

Declaration on the Right to Development at 25

The panel reflected on the current stage in the realization of the right to development, considering its 25th anniversary. In her statement Magdalena Sepulveda, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, lamented the alarming gap between the poor and the rich, and the failure to fully realize the right to development of numerous peoples over the past few decades. As a remedy, the statement stressed the need for social protection systems aligned with core human rights principles and a gender-sensitive design.

The session also explored the linkages between the right to development and other rights. Kishore Sigh, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, highlighted that both the right to development and the right to education are universal, inalienable, and overarching rights, and the right to education contributes to the realization of the right to development with its empowering nature. Virgina Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, introduced international solidarity as a human right, at the core of which lies respecting diversity and connecting people in ways informed by human rights. She suggested that the right to development and international solidarity are complimentary and mutually reinforcing, as warranted by some of their common pursuits such as the pursuit of international cooperation. As the concrete contours of right to international solidarity is in the making, she remarked that “the point of departure will be the elements that it has in common with the right to development,” such as the principles of the UN Charter and various international human rights treaties and conventions.

Legal and social action strategies and the right to development

The discussion explored effective legal and social strategies to operationalize the right to development. The Endorois’ litigation experience was introduced, as the first success case that achieved judicial ruling of an international tribunal in favor of the right to development of indigenous groups. Paul Kipyegen, a Board Member of the Endorois Welfare Council, said that the biggest challenge for the minorities of Kenya has been non-recognition, and subsequently, nonexistent legal protection of their rights. Lucy Claridge, Head of Law of Minorities Rights Group International, and a direct involver in the litigation process that supported the Endorois, highlighted the significance of the case in this vein, as a milestone in clarifying the legal duties of the state to protect the right to development of its people. After the victory in the litigation, the right to development has been invoked more routinely, with the duty for protection of the right invoked upon both States and non-State actors, she further underscored. In such context, legal advocacy to fully embed the right to development in the international human rights regime was wholly supported among the panel, yet the speakers also agreed that such strategies should be complemented by social and political actions. For instance, Miloon Kothari, Director of Housing and Land Rights Network, lamented the reality in many countries wherein slums are being unilaterally removed under the pursuit of “public welfare” and the residents are forcibly being evicted. He argued that social movements are needed to challenge the distorted notion of public purpose as well as the economic ideologies that have prompted such policies.

Social justice and the right to development

The panel addressed the conditions of women, the disabled, and youth that are struggling to attain their due rights and social justice. Fareda Banda of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Kudakwashe Dube, CEO of the Secretariat of the African Decade for Persons with Disabilities, underlined the existing gap between international conventions and on-the-ground measures that safeguard the rights of respectively, women and the disabled. Such a reality hinders the realization of the right to development of the conventionally marginalized peoples, and in turn, the realization of social justice, the panel pointed out. Mr. Dube mentioned that as an outcome of the struggle of persons with disabilities, 26 African countries have so far ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, concerted effort for implementation of the convention is imperative, which requires prioritized allocation of budgets on the issue, he pointed out. Hector Alejandro Aparicio of the International movement ATD Fourth World introduced the street library projects run by the poor youth of Honduras, which has provided the youth the opportunity to creatively operate their own community programs while learning about the social issues of their community. Drawing from the success of the project, which has turned many youth participants into agents of change, he called for development policies that take into account the experience and knowledge of people and whose results are reflected in the daily lives of the poor.

Innovative approaches to participation and accountability in development

The panel consisting of civil society activists shared their experiences in policy recommendation and ground-level project implementation. Iara Pietriocovsky, Co-Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Studies (INESC), introduced a human-rights based public budget analysis framework developed by the INESC, which aims to establish concrete relations between public budget, guarantee of rights, and confrontation of social inequalities. Based on the framework, the Institute has spearheaded participatory budget planning and monitoring by the Brazilian civil society, as well as education of youth on human rights and public budget through a project entitled ONDA (WAVE). Other speakers presented their participatory art projects – devised to have local populations speak through their creative expressions. For instance, Lyno Vuth, Director of Sa Sa Art Projects introduced his project that aims to facilitate the formation of a network of artists, curators, scholars, and audiences in Cambodia through programs such as artist talks, skills training, and workshops. His co-presenter David Gunn of Incidental highlighted the potential contributions of such cultural projects to local development, by stating that “cultural projects can offer radically open platforms for participation”, and “are able to access and reflect more complex emotional impacts and effects of the process of development.”

International institutional framework: an enabling environment for right to development?

The panel pondered on the adequate institutional framework for effectively operationalizing the right to development, along with the issue of its integration into institutional frameworks for climate change. Zeljka Kozul Wright, Chief of the LDC Section, Research and Policy Analysis Branch of UNCTAD, suggested that the New International Development Architecture (NIDA) should be put in place at the structural level, to fundamentally tackle the inequalities across countries. The Architecture, which was also proposed in the 2010 UNCTAD LDC Report, contains the following objectives: supporting domestic resource mobilization in LDCs; creating an international commodity policy; enhancing new long-term financing modalities; institutionalizing a new Special Drawing Rights (SDR)-based system; ensuring adequate debt relief; reform of global governance; and strengthening South-South linkages.

On institutional linkages between the right to development and the climate change regime, Shabala Dalindyebo of the University of Maastricht suggested that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an example of successfully integrating the right to development in the institutional framework of climate change. However, in order to better integrate the right to development into the climate change regime, there needs to be fundamental changes to international intellectual property law such as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which will enable technology transfers to developing countries. He recommended the UNFCCC to attach special agreements on issues that are governed by other organizations, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) that administers technology transfers, or request these organizations to make adjustments.

Financing for development

The panel presentation was divided into two sessions. In the first session, the discussion explored the issue of regulating the international financial regime. Andrea Shemberg shared her experience as a legal consultant for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in drafting the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The guiding principles form the first global-level handbook that sets out written principles for business practices, while respecting the human rights of the people that are potentially impacted by these practices.

In the second session, speakers addressed the relations between the international trade regime and the right to development. Several speakers from the audience raised the issue of mainstreaming human rights in the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Gabrielle Marceau, a Counsellor in the Division of Legal Affairs, WTO, explained that there are no impediments in taking into account human rights laws in implementing the organization’s mandates. She also added that the WTO works towards supporting economic development which is at the heart of the right to development, and as trade alone cannot bring about development, the WTO should pursue the objective in cooperation with other organizations.

In the closing session, Mr. Getahun provided a summary of the Forum. He also encouraged recommendations from civil society, which can be incorporated into the draft resolutions of the Human Rights Council.

Click here to view the programme of work.

Click here to access the presentation files of the speakers.

Click here to view the biographies of the panelists.

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