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Working Group on the Right to Development: The fifteenth annual session

12 May 2014

Morning Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you at the opening of the fifteenth session of the Working Group on the Right to Development.

In previous sessions of this Working Group, I have been pleased to note that despite the obvious differences of opinion, a constructive and collaborative spirit has prevailed among you. I hope you will make good progress in this current session in considering the draft right to development criteria and operational sub-criteria, and that you will agree on a road map to plan the path forward once the first reading is completed.

During my term as High Commissioner, progress has been made in the recognition of the transformative potential of the right to development. It is now widely acknowledged that the right to development can contribute to a new paradigm for sustainable and equitable social justice built on the firm normative foundations of human rights.

The right to development reminds us that in addition to enabling the equality and freedom of all members of society, we must also meet the needs of future generations, so that they can enjoy rights and economic opportunities in conditions of dignity and sustainability. It is therefore uniquely adapted to helping us shape our forward-looking agenda.

Today, the world faces a number of complex, compound crises. Economic, social, cultural, civil, political and environmental challenges across the world spill over into each other. Poverty, for example, is often the result of a long-standing complex of entrenched human rights violations. And it is often also among the causes and consequences of violent conflict, trafficking in human beings, and other gross violations of human rights.

These challenges may seem insurmountable. But they have solutions, and these can be guided by the Declaration on the Right to Development, which enshrines a comprehensive, human-centred paradigm for improvement of human well-being for all.

Like the right to development, food, water, sanitation, healthcare, education, housing and access to justice are not simple commodities. They are rights – fundamental rights to which every woman, man and child are entitled without discrimination, and which all States must strive to deliver to all. There must be equality of opportunity in access to basic resources.

Similarly, every member of society has a right to participate freely in decision-making that affects him or her. This is what the right to development means, first of all: active, free and meaningful participation in defining the parameters of development.

Non-discrimination is another key element of the right to development, as is equity. Social justice must involve everyone, equally, paying special attention to the most deprived and excluded. In the words of the Declaration, the benefits and the burdens of development must be fairly distributed, probably the most clearest enunciation of distributive justice in a human rights instrument.

And because the right to development is grounded in solidarity, it also comprises international cooperation. We urgently need to strengthen modes of cooperation and global governance to ensure greater equality, higher levels of democratic participation and accountability, and fuller coherence with international human rights standards.

Let me return for a moment to the important process of defining the right to development criteria. I believe that at this critical point in history, your work in framing the right to development criteria could benefit from links with our efforts to construct a strong human rights framework for the post-2015 development agenda.

Both in terms of process and substance, the post-2015 development agenda must have the right to development at its core. It must address both sides of the development challenge –freedom from want and freedom from fear. It must seek to ensure not only economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political ones, as well as the right to development; not only economic progress, but also freedom, dignity and equality.

The new development agenda’s goals, targets and indicators must explicitly align the development framework with human rights, including the right to development; and it must focus appropriately on marginalized, disempowered and excluded groups, who have been locked out of development for decades – or even longer.

It must advance a healthy environment as an important condition underlying a number of internationally guaranteed human rights. It must seek to create a social and international order in which human rights can be fully realized, including by international reform to ensure that policies are coherent with human rights approaches.

In the wake of the global financial, food, climate and energy crises – and the failures of global governance to prevent and mitigate their effects – the post-2015 agenda must address the pressing need for reforms at the international level. This must include human rights-based reforms of the institutions, processes and policies of global governance. This will include democratising the institutions of global governance, to give real voice and participation to all countries in global decision-making and ensure greater fairness and equity in the shaping of the rules of global governance. We need meaningful reforms of trade, finance, investment, intellectual property, climate and other regimes, to ensure that international rules and policies are consistent with, and do not undercut, the minimum standards set by human rights. All States must have the policy space to protect the human rights of their people.

The new development agenda must include a strong accountability framework that clearly identifies the holders of rights and those responsible for fulfilling them. And it must define mechanisms at all levels to ensure that relevant institutions are answerable for their responsibilities, and are subject to enforceability where they do not deliver.

This responsibility for human rights-based development should be expanded to include actors in the private sector, notably large and transnational corporations. The United Nation’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are an excellent road map for companies to align their corporate operations, distribution systems and marketing with human rights standards.

For Governments, respecting human rights, and deploying such human rights-based solutions, is not only a legal obligation: it bestows legitimacy on the leaders who ensure it. But Governments and corporations alike have come to realize that respect for human rights makes for a more stable, harmonious and ultimately far more prosperous society.

Moreover, I want to emphasize the importance of civil society in these processes. Civil society organisations can raise awareness, both among national stakeholders and the general public, about the content of the right to development and the possibilities that it opens.

The right to development is a human right on an equal footing with all other human rights. The recognition that every human person and all peoples are entitled to a development process in which all human rights, including the right to development, can be fully realized is at the core of the human rights-based approach to development.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We look to this Working Group to reflect and guide the international community as we seek to position the right to development in the post-2015 development agenda. You have an opportunity to help to shape a truly vital agenda: vital, in the sense of being at the source of life. What world will we leave behind for the future generations of humanity? How can we shape it so that it is fair and beneficial to all?

In further exploring the parameters of the right to development, your work can go a long way towards informing the global debate on creating development that frees all human beings from fear and from want. I assure you of the full support of my Office as you embark on this inspiring task.

Thank you very much.