Thirty years ago, the Declaration on the Right to Development broke new ground in the universal struggle for greater human dignity, freedom, equality and justice.
It called for every member of society to be empowered to participate fully and freely in vital decisions. It demanded equal opportunities, and the equitable distribution of economic resources - including for people traditionally marginalized, disempowered and excluded from development, such as women, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, older persons, persons with disabilities and the poor; and for countries at all levels of development, including those most lagging behind. It demanded better governance of the international economic framework. And it re-defined development as far deeper, broader and more complex than the narrow, growth-and-profit focus of previous decades.
The goal of development is to improve the well-being of every member of society. People are not the how of development - not mere tools which can be exploited to produce greater wealth for limited élites. They are the why. True development roots out and corrects the causes of poverty – the multiple human rights violations which have deprived people of power, control over resources, and a voice in their government, economy and society, and denied equal participation in global governance. True development generates greater social justice, not deeper exploitation; and it reduces the towering inequalities which confiscate the fundamental rights of those who are marginalised and poor.
This vital new vision of development as a comprehensive economic, social and political process – including the most vulnerable and marginalised, and grounded in realisation of the full range of human rights – has had important impact on the international landscape. Today, as we mark the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, we also celebrate the birth of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – a potentially transformative framework that is committed to realising, for all the world’s people, the right to development's goals.
The 2030 Agenda explicitly pays tribute to its foundations in the right to development. At its heart is the struggle to eliminate discrimination, notably with its strong and detailed commitments to end the marginalisation and exclusion of women and girls, and its inspiring mantra of leaving no-one behind. The Agenda commits every State to ensuring that every member of society has the opportunity to develop skills, participate in and benefit from development: this promise, when delivered, will change the lives of millions of people.
Like the Declaration on the Right to Development, the 2030 Agenda also addresses the systemic obstructions that disadvantage the poor – among them, distorted trade frameworks and weak international governance over powerful transnational actors, including the vectors of financial speculation, capital flight and tax havens. The 2030 Agenda promises better regulation of global financial markets, and an enhanced voice for developing countries in international economic and financial institutions. It commits all States to cooperate in fostering international development and endorses the principle of special and differential treatment for developing countries, in particular least developed countries.
Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda explicitly acknowledges that peace and justice are development objectives. It recognises that neither freedom from fear nor freedom from want can be realised in isolation. Recognizing that all human rights work together, and together, they build the core conditions for development and peace, the Agenda makes strong commitments to provide access to justice for all, with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels and an end to corruption. This echoes the Declaration's emphatic call for "equal attention and urgent consideration" to the implementation, promotion and protection of all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as well as its plea for disarmament and the use of released resources for development.
The right to development will continue to play a key role as we seek to create an enabling environment for consistent, accountable, strongly directed implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Why? Because it makes explicit a number of profound and foundational truths.
Societies which exclude groups of people from vital opportunities and resources hold back the ability of entire nations to develop their full potential. Inclusive, participatory societies benefit from the skills of all; and when adequate services are provided, such as decent health, education and housing, everyone reaps massive economic, political and social benefits.
Where the people are oppressed, and seethe with resentment, there is a high risk of inequality, unstable development, violence and upheaval. Where the government listens to, and is responsive to, the people, there will be greater social justice, and more resilient and sustainable political, social and economic structures.
Where there is secrecy and corruption, there is anger and fear; when a government is accountable and transparent, there is trust and predictability, creating the basis for a more sound and more broadly prosperous economy, development that is sustainable, and societies that manage to resolve disputes in peaceful ways.
Human rights are not luxuries that only rich and peaceful societies can afford. They are the drivers of peace, security, confidence, resilience, the public trust – and development, whether economic, social or personal. And as the Declaration on the Right to Development so clearly states, everyone, without distinction, is entitled to a social and international order in which human rights and freedoms can be realised.