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Africa and the Right to Development: Towards Post-2015 Agenda Statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Human Rights Council side event, 10 March 2014, Geneva, Switzerland

Monday 10 March 2014, 3 p.m.
Room XXIII, Palais des Nations

Excellencies,
Distinguished panellists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join you at this important meeting on ‘Africa and the Right to Development: Towards Post-2015 Agenda’. I congratulate the African Union, the Permanent Mission of Egypt and the National Council for Human Rights of Egypt for this very topical and timely initiative.

When the General Assembly adopted the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, it considered the right of all individuals and peoples to the constant improvement of their well-being. To the greater humanity, the Declaration meant a new-found freedom from the shackles of colonialism, and the resurgence of hope. Grounded in self-determination, both political and economic, it revolutionized the idea of development, through a transformative vision entitling all peoples to participate fully and share equitably, to define their own development, and to decide their own destiny.

This concept of the right to development has deep roots in Africa. Its contours were shaped with contributions from great jurists of the continent, including Kéba M’Baye from Senegal, Mohammed Bedjaoui from Algeria and Georges Abi-Saab from Egypt. It is enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Arab Charter on Human Rights. Article 22 of the African Charter recognizes that ‘All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of humankind’; and that ‘States shall have the duty, individually and collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development’.

But in reality, of the Earth’s 7 billion inhabitants, 842 million do not have enough food. 1.7 billion have no access to clean water. Individually and collectively, we have failed 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. Sharp inequalities mean that the richest 85 people own wealth equal to that of the poorest half of the world’s population. It is surely an outrage to our collective conscience that between 1990 and 2013, 416 million people died due to poverty and related causes.   

In Rio and Vienna, we recognized that “the right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations”. While climate change takes a toll on all humanity, the earth’s rising temperatures, drought and desertification have disproportionate impacts on Africa. 75 percent of the world’s poorest people -- 1.4 billion women, children and men -- live in rural areas and depend on agriculture. The right to development must guide international and transnational economic arrangements including with regard to commodity prices and agricultural subsidies.

For centuries, the people of Africa had been at the receiving end of gross violations of human rights including slavery, colonialism, apartheid and the slave trade. Remnants of injustices are still visible including in the treatment of people of African descent outside the continent. Old forms of exploitation must not be replaced by new ones. New waves of globalization are bringing a rush of business to Africa, with rapid expansion of international trade, investment and finance. The right to development must serve to ensure that these activities, including South-South, triangular and multi-stakeholder arrangements, operate within the framework of human rights standards and the corresponding policy space of States, in a spirit of a genuine global partnership for development. When land-grabs by large corporations and demands by mega-development projects lead to the displacement of communities without their participation – free, active and meaningful – in decision-making, their right to development is violated. So too, when indigenous peoples are removed from their way of life and livelihoods by development projects, as exemplified by the African Commission’s findings in the Endorois case.

Africa’s natural and cultural heritage is a strong foundation for sustainable development. People’s sovereignty over natural wealth and resources is intrinsic to the right to development, and it is denied by unfair exploitation and appropriation of profits in, for instance, extractive industries. Intellectual property regimes cannot rightfully deny access to knowledge and technology. An enabling environment for the right to development would ensure access to medicines for millions living with HIV/AIDS, with 88 percent of all affected children and 60 percent of all affected women living in sub-Saharan Africa.

Corruption is endemic in many countries North and South, and it is also often bound in interlocking systems and structures which transcend national borders. Beyond the reach of national regimes of accountability, capital flight, tax havens and illicit financial flows keep wealth in the hands of a few.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is time to truly implement the Right to Development.

As States meet in New York in the Open Working Group to discuss the framework of the Post-2015 agenda and the new Sustainable Development Goals, we must ensure that the Right to Development is at its core. 

 The Post-2015 Agenda must be a universal agenda, based on universal norms, directed to ensuring freedom from fear and freedom from want for all people without discrimination. Its goals, targets and indicators must explicitly align the development framework with human rights and with the right to development. A new social and international order underpinned by the right to development, with strong mechanisms to ensure monitoring and accountability, would address systemic failures, structural injustices and responsibility gaps in global governance. Our responses will be enriched by a sense of community and international solidarity, mutual accountability and shared responsibilities.

The human rights principles of equity, equality and non-discrimination must underpin the post-2015 agenda. The right to development prohibits racism and discrimination in all its forms, including on the basis of colour, and human rights safeguards for women and all vulnerable, marginalized and excluded groups must also be intrinsic to the agenda for sustainable development. The right to development addresses inequalities within and between countries, and calls for particular attention to developing countries. Africa is home to many Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and fragile States, and their vulnerabilities must be addressed.

The right to development mandates reform in global governance to uphold true equality, participation and representation for all nations. The SDGs must set strong targets and indicators that promote and hold states accountable for sustainable and equitable development.

Poverty eradication and the struggle against inequality and discrimination are seminal to the right to development and must be at the heart of the post-2015 agenda. Poverty and inequality not only deny a broad range of human rights but breed conflict, and too many are locked in cycles of meaningless violence, not least in Africa. Peace and security, human rights and development, the three pillars of the UN Charter, meet in the Declaration on the Right to Development which calls for disarmament and the use of released resources for development.

In our engagement in the post-2015 process, we have seen wide, cross-regional, support for the right to development. My Office is providing guidance in terms of how to go forward in concrete terms.Africa’s growing population and future generations must find dignity and opportunities in sustainable development. What they need most is political will – the will to embrace a new paradigm of development built on a foundation of human rights, equality and sustainability. Continued leadership, vision and direction from African nations will help us move forward in our collective efforts.

Here let me recall the words of one of Africa’s greatest sons, my own countryman, Nelson Mandela, revered through a lifetime, and immortal in our hearts and minds:

‘We do not want freedom without bread, nor do we want bread without freedom. We shall have both.’

Thank you.