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International Solidarity, the Right to Development and the Agents of Change by Virginia B. Dandan Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity

Human Rights Council Panel on The Way Forward in the Realization of the Right to Development: Between Policy and Practice

14 September 2011

In his final report to the Human Rights Council, the former Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity, my predecessor Mr. Rudi Muhammad Rizki, summarizes the replies to the questionnaire on human rights and international solidarity that he had sent to States, UN departments and bodies, specialized agencies, other international organizations, non-governmental organizations and special procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council. In his conclusion in the same report, Mr. Rizki underlines the value and significance of international solidarity in an interdependent world, and how it may eventually guide the progressive development of international law on human rights and international solidarity.

I share with you three particular paragraphs from this same report that illustrate the link between international solidarity and the right to development:

24. Several respondents viewed international solidarity and the right to development as complimentary and mutually reinforcing. International solidarity should be an indispensable component of efforts to realize the right to development, which could help to lessen the gap between developed and developing countries by buttressing rhetoric and declarations with tangible actions. It is the right of all countries to develop, subject to the duty to do so in ways that will not harm others or the environment. In today’s interdependent world, international conditions give rise to situations of emergency, especially in developing countries; for instance, the financial crisis, conflicts and environmental degradation. The spread of diseases, high-debt burdens and unfair trade practices hamper the efforts of developing countries to pursue sustainable development. It is argued that global solidarity or universal fraternity should be the basic principle inspiring relations between developed and developing countries. This view also reflects the need felt in the current international context to ensure that civil society actors are leading players in development processes. It also provides qualitatively important elements for a defining feature of cooperation for development: the idea of partnership.

25. The concept of “twinship” between a developed and developing country would be a practical way to reduce the existing gap. The very idea of a partnership envisages equality between the subjects, and primarily between developed and developing countries, nongovernmental organizations in the North and in the South, and multinational and local companies. Partnership should be made substantial by fraternity at an individual level, and also between public institutions and private organizations. According to article 2 of the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by the General Assembly in its resolution 41/128, the human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development. Transparency, good governance and democratic Governments at the national level are also essential elements of the right to development. In many developing countries, the fruits of development are monopolized by small ruling elites, to the detriment of the masses.

26. The right to development must be closely monitored, and one country’s right to development should never intrude on another’s. There should be some official system of checks and balances to ensure that States uphold the agreements they reach. The right to development requires, inter alia, accessibility of development; the cancellation of debt of developing countries; access to agricultural markets in developed countries; and the elimination of price discrepancies for agricultural and manufactured goods on the world markets. The view was expressed that this right also requires a condemnation of the practice of proclamation of territories of other countries as areas of national interest of other States, and renunciation of the use of double standards in assessing regional conflicts, issues concerning the territorial integrity of States, and the rights of nations and peoples to self-determination. The right to development mandates fostering just global social and economic arrangements and a sense of human solidarity among all peoples. International relations are still subject to the law of the strong and powerful in economic and military terms. Attempts to exercise pressure on other countries pose a challenge that requires international cooperation.

My own view is that solidarity is a persuasion that combines differences and opposites, holds them together into one heterogeneous whole, and nurtures it with the universal values of human rights. International solidarity therefore does not seek to homogenize but rather, to be the bridge across these differences and opposites, connecting to each other diverse peoples and countries with their heterogeneous interests, in mutually respectful, beneficial and reciprocal relations, that are imbued with the principles of human rights, equity and justice.

There are three notions to be stressed: that international solidarity should be viewed in its broadest sense, that it is about respecting diversity, it is about connecting peoples, it is about oneness and accord, and it is about human rights as the binding force securing the heterogeneous parts together. If we can agree that international solidarity connects diverse peoples and countries into a harmonious whole, informed by human rights in meaningful ways, I believe there should be no doubt that international solidarity is itself a human right. And yet that question is still being debated as we gather here, to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development. There is considerable acceptance of international solidarity as a moral principle, but the concept of international solidarity as a right faces varying degrees of opposition, from scepticism to categorical objection. This echoes the climate surrounding the right to development before it was finally proclaimed twenty-five years ago, and by all indications, the debate has not been fully resolved. Nonetheless, In reference to my mandate, I have already committed to submit to the Human Rights Council a draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity before the end of my term in three years.

The list of reports, background papers, consultancy studies and other resource materials of the high level task force on the implementation of the right to development is evidence of the formidable and comprehensive work that it has done, supplemented by the work of other experts and researchers. I congratulate the experts of the high level task force for their superlative work and especially their exhaustive reports. I attentively read the report on its sixth session on the topic of right to development criteria and operational sub-criteria, as well as the report on the consolidation of its findings. Its Recommendations contained in the sixth session report, are meant to assist the working group on the right to development “...in developing effective means and methods of implementing the right to development. The suggestions relate to (a) further action on the criteria; (b) thematic areas of international cooperation for consideration; and (c) mainstreaming the right to development.

The idea of pilot-testing the criteria with the recommended special modality of regional consultations is legitimate, sound and encouraging and so is the idea of requesting that the right to development criteria be considered as part of the universal periodic review. While recognizing that at this point it is a priority to mainstream the right to development, moving from policy to practice means moving into governance, and governance involves the peoples and individuals who are being governed.

I also note with appreciation the background report submitted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights containing an overview of measures and actions needed to implement the right to development at the local, national, regional and international levels, with a particular focus on the role and contribution of civil society and non-governmental organizations,”where in paragraph 14 she calls attention to how the Declaration on the Right to Development emphasizes the importance of participation of individuals and attaches great importance to their contribution in the development process.

This brings to mind how my own experience of the right to development comes from having been a member for two decades until recently, of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as from my continuing human rights work on the ground with indigenous communities in my country, as well as with the Philippine national human rights institution, local NGOs, community organizers, and local government units.

The work of the Committee is to monitor compliance by States of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. So as not to repeat/ pre-empt my colleague the incumbent Chairperson of the Committee, I will limit myself to just pointing out that my view of how the right to development is implemented by States parties to the Covenant, is framed by the provisions of the Covenant particularly article 1 that protects the right of peoples to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, as well as article 2 outlining the nature of the obligations of States including the duty to provide international assistance and cooperation. The implementation by States of their Covenant obligations is the basis of a constructive dialogue between Committee members and State delegations, a question and answer method that provides the opportunity to delve deeper into details focusing on the progress achieved and the obstacles and difficulties encountered. During each session, international and non-governmental organizations engage with the Committee orally and in writing, providing detailed information on the actual situation on the ground. Oftentimes the information provided by States in their report and during the dialogue, and information received from these international and non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society, do not correspond. I convey this to you to illustrate a mode of participation and representation, and its added value to human rights treaty monitoring.

I consider myself fortunate that my personal outlook based on the international level perspective is enriched and balanced by the human rights in development work that I do with grassroots communities. I have seen the view as described verbally in dialogues with State delegations along with written reports, reports from NGOs and UN specialized agencies based on their areas of focus and expertise, and the reality as lived by people in grassroots communities far removed from Geneva. One end of the spectrum to the opposite end, is a world apart, symbolic of the disconnect between policy and practice. But at the same time, in those many years of working with grassroots communities I have witnessed how solidarity can effectively bring people together to overcome obstacles in the fulfilment of human rights and development.

The Declaration on the Right to Development in Article 1 paragraph 1 states: The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are 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. And Article 2 paragraph 1 states: The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.

I quote these paragraphs because they specifically refer to the human person and peoples, their entitlement to participate in and contribute to development, and their right to be the active participants in their own development. After twenty-five years of the Declaration, it is important to ask what efforts have been made to directly find out how the enjoyment of the right to development is actually experienced by people in the realities of everyday life. Are there reports that would provide information about, for example, what the right to development means to people, what things are important to them, what they expect their government and others to do for them, what things they are able to do on their own for themselves, their families and their communities, and their role if any, in decision-making processes that affect their lives?

It is my firm conviction that if we want to effectively move from policy to practice, it is critical that we listen to the voice of peoples so that policy can be informed by their genuine participation, which is the essence of the right to development. Human aspirations for development and well-being belong to real people. There is a need to go beyond our expectations and taken-for-granted assumptions based on constructs that may not even be relevant, about what those aspirations are and how development and well-being are defined by the very people affected.

I respectfully suggest that the working group on the right to development, in pilot-testing the criteria recommended by the high level task force, might explore mechanisms that will put in place the enabling environment for people’s genuine participation in the processes of the right to development. Although there is no single method for a human rights-based approach to development, there are agreed minimum and essential elements in the application and practice of such approaches. In this regard, might I also suggest that these practices be documented so that we can have a compilation of selected models that have already been tested. Allow me to share with you, one such model that has been fully documented. I am referring to a recently-concluded human rights community development project, a bilateral programme between the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines and the New Zealand Human Rights Commission focusing on three selected indigenous communities in the Philippines and counterpart Maori communities in New Zealand. The rich documentation in these two projects illustrate the meaning of peoples’ direct participation in their own development, and with the full engagement and involvement of their local governments, it also gives meaning of effective governance that is congruent to the principles of the right to development.

There are surely many other similar activities by individuals and organizations and it should be our task to seek and to highlight these practices. At the same time, we will thus be filling the gap that will otherwise continue to keep the Declaration on the Right to Development in limbo. Many diverse territories are in the midst of great changes brought about by powerful natural and man-made forces causing entire nations to lose their voices, and people who already live in poverty to grow even more impoverished. In the face of these grim realities, it is indeed a formidable task to seek out and highlight good practices that may not be formally labelled as human rights based approaches to development, but nonetheless give effect to the principles of the right to development. That is precisely the locus of hope...among peoples and individuals who can be and indeed are, the primary agents of change, and who have the right to shape their own destiny.