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The Right to Development at 25: Policy Coherence in the Global Partnership for Development

On 8 November, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) held a commemorative meeting at UN Headquarters to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development. The meeting included statements by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, as well as the Chairs of the First, Second, and Third Committees and the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, chaired the meeting and made both introductory and closing statements.

The event began with the screening of a video overview of the right to development in the contemporary global context. Introducing the challenges facing individuals to the achievement of development, the video illustrated the ways in which climate change and resource exploitation, poverty and hunger, and forced displacement and conflict have hindered access to health, education, and energy.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered opening remarks at the commemoration, beginning by highlighting the inherent hope evoked by the Declaration on the Right to Development, a promise echoed in Rio in 1992, at the Millennium Summit, and the subsequent World Conference on Human Rights. Mr. Ban lamented the fact that this declaration “on paper lived, but in practice languished,” explaining that in the years since 1986, economic growth was confused for development, and too much was ceded to the invisible hand of the market.

The Secretary-General continued by noting that in 2011 significant progress has been made towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but their achievement will require more significant efforts to improve implementation and governmental accountability. Mr. Ban framed the complementary “right to build one’s own future,” enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development, and the corresponding responsibility of all to contribute to this development in terms of a call for a new social contract. Highlighting his recent trip to Cannes for the G20 Summit, the Secretary-General articulated his argument in favour of a social protection floor, to reduce poverty, shield populations from shocks, and create equality as a precondition for the flourishing of societies.

In the face of global food, fuel, and financial crises which threaten the right to development, Mr. Ban advocated for the investment in people, especially women and youth, who can drive progress, stabilize societies, correct social injustices, and transform frustration into production. As development is the path to peace, and vice versa, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or “Rio+20”) as an opportunity to define a path for “the world we want” and to develop a collective mindset to support development progress.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the General Assembly, spoke of the shared mission of his office during the 66th General Assembly and the global partnership advocated by the Declaration on the Right to Development. Articulating his commitment to strengthen the role of the General Assembly in promoting cooperation and linkages between Least Developed Countries (LDCs), developing, and developed countries, Mr. Al-Nasser spoke of the necessity for a paradigm shift in making development a reality for all through achieving consistency in the implementation of the right to development. Invoking the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Al-Nasser spoke of the solidarity and collective responsibility necessary to advance the implementation of the declaration and to promote sustainable development throughout the world.

The Chair of the Third Committee on social, cultural, and humanitarian issues, Haniff Hussein, stressed the importance of implementing a constructive approach to the right to development through emphasizing democracy and good governance as key to ensuring civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Mr. Hussein reinforced the importance of Member States’ responsibility to cooperate to promote development, especially through empowering women and youth. Moreover, Mr. Hussein stressed the subject for development as the human person, where development objectives including the MDGs aim to meet human needs more effectively and ensure equitable and inclusive conditions for ours and future generations.

Jarmo Viinanen, Chair of the First Committee on disarmament and security, underscored the necessity of making the Declaration on the Right to Development meaningful. Targeted, effective action is required, Mr. Viinanen continued, especially to reverse the proliferation of conventional arms, which fuel conflict and human rights abuses and undermine progress towards the achievement of the MDGs. Bridging the divide between security and development through the creation of a common approach, particularly through mediation and early action, can contribute to the implementation of programmes supporting the right to development. Emphasizing the importance of coherence and coordination, the First Committee Chair concluded by placing the final responsibility with the Member States.

Chair of the Second Committee on economic and financial issues Abulkalam Abdul Momen called for 2011 to be a “year of implementation” on ideals enshrined in the right to development. Global challenges and increased interdependence necessitate the coherent implementation of policy, and the employment of the right to development framework in the context of peace and security, he stated. The responsibility to create an enabling environment for policy coherence falls upon the Member States, Mr. Momen too declared, in recognition of the intrinsic links between peace, human rights, and development. Partnership, strong political commitment, and mechanisms to evaluate progress on upholding these commitments are necessary, as part of a framework of transparency, inclusion, and accountability necessary for the achievement of sustainable development.

Cheick Sidi Diarra, Special Adviser for Africa and Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, outlined the international framework supporting the right to development in the context of inclusion and gender equity. The States Mr. Diarra represents are particularly relevant examples of the necessity of implementing the right to development in countries with the lowest social and economic indicators, including per capita income.

In particular, Mr. Diarra focused on the Istanbul Programme of Action (May 2011) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) (2001), and their overlapping priorities of agriculture and food security, infrastructure, climate change, governance, education, health, technology, and the mobilization of financial resources. Universal declarations must be transformed into individual ownership, Mr. Diarra stated, in recognition of the need to act on the frameworks put in place since 1948. Implementation and action are essential to ensuring sustainable development for people in abject poverty.

The Chair, Ms. Pillay, opened the floor for discussion. The representative from Brazil asked the Chair of the Second Committee about his forecast for a balance between the right to development and the need for sustainable transformation in the face of deforestation and climate change. Mr. Momen answered by highlighting the connections between these issues, and the additional resources necessary to achieve sustainable development goals. Challenges in particular relate to Financing for Development (FfD) and encouraging implementation.

The delegate from Cuba asked about the balance of resources, perhaps tilted in favour of security spending as opposed to the provision of direct spending for development. As the lack of development forms an essential factor regarding the lack of security and the lack of guarantees for universal human rights, Cuba’s representative called on the UN to reconsider its allocation of resources. This question prompted responses from the Chairs of each of the committees, as well as Mr. Diarra.

Mr. Viinanen spoke of the relevance of Cuba’s question, often discussed in First Committee meetings, and agreed that funds for development are much smaller than military spending. Mr. Viinanen stressed, however, the need for analyzing exact figures when discussing these issues.

Mr. Momen agreed with Cuba’s concerns, and the necessary to change the political mindset behind disproportionate resource allocation. Empowerment of people must go hand in hand with the provision of resources, the Second Committee chair continued, stating that a key problem in implementation is that the resources exist without the mindset to support their allocation for development. The strategy we use, Mr. Momen concluded, is not inclusive and is not efficiently achieving development and sustainable peace. Promoting public awareness to create a strong movement to achieve a peace-oriented political mindset is key to the achievement of the right to development

Mr. Hussein spoke of development as a core instrument for peace, and advocating the use of peace dividends to fund development and eradicate poverty. The Third Committee Chair spoke of the disproportionate allocation of resources as an issue of prioritization, and agreed with Mr. Momen regarding the importance of encouraging a mindset towards development, peace, and security, at regional, national, and intergovernmental levels.

Mr. Diarra provided some figures to support the discussion: in 2008, the budget for the UN Department of Peacekeeping was $7 billion, while UN development projects for operational instruments spent $10 billion. Highlighting the strong effort to maintain development support at the top level, Mr. Diarra cautioned that a decline in aid should be expected as a result of the financial crisis, and that countries should turn to the mobilization of domestic national resources in the face of reluctance by development partners.

In her closing statement, Ms. Pillay agreed with the Secretary-General’s statement of the necessity of a paradigm shift to realize the right to development. True transformation, Ms. Pillay stated, requires seeing the world through the lens of human dignity. The High Commissioner for Human Rights illustrated the messages surrounding her office’s key programme work celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development: development as a universal human right, one that responds to contemporary challenges and requires collective action.
Finally, the High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke of Rio+20 as an opportunity to articulate the change in mindset necessary to re-engage support of the right to development in the context of climate change and environmental sustainability.

More information:

For more information on the right to development, visit:

- OHCHR Right to Development Site

- OHCHR Materials on the Right to Development

- UN Documents on the Right to Development

Read also: The 2011 Social Forum on the Right to Development concludes