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Statement by Mr. Craig Mokhiber, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries

Madame Chair, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address this Conference on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This conference is of vital importance to the setting a more effective course for achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development in the LDCs, as well as for progress in the international community as a whole. But our first concern is for the millions of people living in those countries, and for their opportunity to realize their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. Human rights, including the right to development, must therefore be central to the development course envisaged by this conference for the LDCs.

The evidence for this proposition is everywhere to be seen. Recent developments have shown the world that economic growth alone is not adequate to meet the legitimate demands of the world’s peoples. Neither will growth be sustainable if it is not equitable, inclusive and people-centered, or leaves many at the margins of their societies, mired in poverty and exclusion. The fact that 8 out of the 10 fastest growing LDCs during 2002-2007 remain “fragile” States shows that economic growth accompanied by poor governance and political instability cannot bring about sustainable development.

Our understanding of development today therefore goes far beyond mere economic growth. Few now dispute that real development is a complex and multi-faceted process, characterized by a diverse range of factors, such as equity, freedom, adequate standards of health and education, food security, gender equality, and good governance. The measure of development is the degree to which poverty and oppression are reduced, and the full range of human rights advanced. The message from civil society, declared in recent months in the streets and echoed around the world by new communications technologies and social media, is this: Development - real development - is about freedom from fear and freedom from want, for all people, without discrimination. Any more narrow analysis, focused only on economic growth, or private investment, or governmental structures, is destined to fail.

Mr. President,

A clear-eyed focus on this people-centered and human rights-based conception of development also reveals the barriers to development that must be overcome, if the LDCs are to achieve the progress that all in this room are determined to see. This means ensuring greater respect for self-determination, more serious efforts to advance disarmament, a global commitment to opposing racism and xenophobia at all levels, embracing more human rights-compliant response to global migration, and urgent efforts to respond to the effects of climate change. Removing such barriers is as much a human rights imperative as it is a development imperative. Every obstacle to development is an obstacle to human rights, just as every obstacle to human rights is an obstacle to development.

Indeed, development itself is a human right for all individuals and peoples. The Declaration on the Right to Development, the 25th Anniversary of which we commemorate this year, describes development as “a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the wellbeing of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom”. Furthermore, the Declaration defines the right to development as an inalienable human right by virtue of which everyone is entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. Of course, the LDCs are in fact rich with potential, and over the last two decades, we have seen progress and innovation in many relevant spheres such as technology, medicine and communications. Nevertheless, the challenges faced by LDCs have never been greater. All struggle with poverty and inequality. Many are threatened by the effects of climate change, natural and man-made disasters, food shortages, disease and other economic and social threats.

Thus, for millions of women, men and children living in LDCs, the right to development remains to be fulfilled. We, the international community gathered here, have a responsibility to make this right a reality for everyone, everywhere, beginning with the millions of people living in LDCs.

But, Mr. President, also yet to be achieved is an adequate enabling environment for development at all levels. We believe that such an environment can be nurtured through application of the human rights principles of accountability, equality, non-discrimination, participation, empowerment and transparency, both in national policies and programmes, and in bilateral, regional and global development partnerships and programmes.

Here, free, active and meaningful participation is especially important. This is true at the national level, since, as the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 reminded us, democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. But it is equally true at the international level, where reforms for more equitable, participatory and rights-based structures and processes have long been called for.

No doubt, violations of human rights, inequitable distribution of national wealth, corruption and income inequality run counter to establishing peaceful and stable democratic societies and improving the well-being of all. The rule of law, accountability, anti-corruption and good governance practices at the national level are crucial elements of the rights based-approach to development and the right to development itself.

We must also recognize the linkages between development, poverty reduction and gender equality and the contribution of women to development. Women’s empowerment is particularly crucial in LDCs where agriculture is often the main source of employment (frequently absorbing two thirds of the labour force) and where women comprise half of the agricultural labour force. Simply put, women’s rights are human rights and human rights are good for development.

At the global level, a commitment to effective international cooperation and solidarity between States is also indispensable. This includes fair aid, trade, investment, debt relief, transfer of technology, access to medicines, financing for development as well as climate change responses. Reform for more democratic and inclusive global economic governance would help create an environment more conducive to LDC development. And at the heart of such reform must be more explicit linkages to human rights standards and the effective and meaningful participation of LDCs and of civil society in global deliberations and decision-making.

In an era of globalization, the rights and responsibilities of all are interrelated and interdependent. The importance of collective and shared responsibilities and a sense of inter and intra-generational equity should also be highlighted in supporting the equitable and inclusive development in LDCs.

For our part, Mr. President, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights remains committed to continuing its support for the human rights-based development of the LDCs. No doubt, there remain critical deficits in LDCs in the areas of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and citizen empowerment, particularly for women and marginalized groups. But LDCs are today active participants in the international human rights system. OHCHR is working in partnership with dozens of LDCs to support them in strengthening civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, peace-building, democratic elections, transitional justice, conflict resolution and transition, protection of civilians and victims of sexual violence, capacity-building, and working with security and justice institutions, civil society and national human rights institutions.

We are also working with LDCs to support their participation in the Universal Periodic review system, and in the international human rights treaty system. Of the 48 LDCs, 37 have already ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and 40 have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These countries need support for capacities to translate their legal commitments into practical action so that the people on the ground fully enjoy their human rights, and, thus, become empowered and active agents to contribute to, participate in and benefit from development.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

On this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, millions living in the Least Developed Countries remain locked out of the promise of dignity contained in that document. So too does the vision of freedom from fear and want contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights remain alien to so many of them. This conference can move to close the gap between the rhetoric of those documents, and the realities of the people of the LDCs, each of whom seeks only, in the words of a well-known poet who lived in this city, Nazim Hikmet, “to live like a tree in […] freedom and like a forest in community”.

I thank you for your attention.