The Right to Development and Least Developed Countries

A boy posing for picture in Vanuatu - one of the 48 LDCs © Ali Yakhshi-TaftiFor the millions of men, women and children living in the least developed countries (LDCs), development is one of the most urgent of human rights imperatives. Development is a human right for all individuals and peoples. The formulation of development as a right is based on the idea that it is not merely an equivalent to economic growth.

The Declaration on the Right to Development 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….”

LDCs demonstrate increasing commitment to respecting and promoting human rights. Out of 48 LDCs, 37 ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); 40 ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); 39 ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD); 46 ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); 47 ratified the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC); and 29 ratified the Convention against Torture (CAT). Twenty-six LDCs ratified ICESCR, ICCPR, CERD, CEDAW, CAT and CRC: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Congo (DRC), Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Togo, Yemen and Zambia.

There remain critical deficits in LDCs in the areas of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and citizen empowerment, particularly with regard to women and marginalized groups. OHCHR supports LDCs in several areas, including human rights monitoring, peace-building, democratic elections, transitional justice, conflict and post-conflict situations, protection of civilians and victims of sexual and gender-based violence, human and institutional capacity-building especially working with the army and police as well as civil society and national human rights institutions.

OHCHR has country offices in 6 LDCs: Uganda (set up in 2005), Togo (2006), Guinea (2009), Nepal (2005), Cambodia (1993) and Mauritania (2009). It supports human rights components in Peace Missions in 11 LDCs: Sudan, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Guinea Bissau, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Timor-Leste. The Office also has Human Rights Advisors in UN Country Teams covering 6 LDCs: Niger, Rwanda and Great Lakes (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda).

OHCHR delivered training on Human Rights Monitoring for National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), including civil society, in Djibouti (2008), Ethiopia (2008), Timor-Leste (2008) and Tanzania (2009).


The Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) took place from 9 to 13 May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey, and adopted the Istanbul Declaration and Programme of Action for LDCs for the decade of 2011-2020 (IPOA). Compared to the Brussels Programme of Action (BPOA), the IPOA has an increased number of references to human rights including the right to development and, for the first time, the right to food, the right to health, sexual and reproductive health, as well as a new section on "Gender equality and empowerment of women". Apart from the Introduction, all parts of the IPOA contain references to human rights. Protecting and promoting human rights is acknowledged as part of:

  • the important lessons learned for the IPOA from the reviews of the BPOA for the past decade;
  • the specific objectives of national policies of LDCs and international support measures; and
  • the principles guiding the implementation of the IPOA.

The IPOA recognizes that "Development requires and strengthens freedom, peace and security, good governance, respect for all human rights, including the right to food, the rule of law, gender equality, respect for nature and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies" and "development strategies and programmes of least developed countries and their partners should strive to enhance the participation and empowerment of the poor and marginalized in their own development, benefit the most vulnerable, ensuring social justice, democracy, gender equality, and sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development".

Under the IPOA, the LDCs are required to:

  • promote and respect all internationally recognized human rights, including the right to development;
  • strengthen good governance, the rule of law, human rights, gender equality and empowerment of women, and democratic participation, including by enhancing the role of parliaments;
  • take steps to realize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health;
  • achieve equal access of women and girls to education, basic services, health care, economic opportunities;
  • accelerate efforts to promote women’s rights and gender equality, including women with disabilities;
  • establish and continue implementing national development plans to take account of the needs of women and girls;
  • provide women and girls with full access to education and training, basic services, health care and economic opportunities, including ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, financial services and social protection;
  • strengthen support to maternal health and increase access to family planning resources for women, men and young people;
  • take resolute action against violence, abuse and discrimination to ensure that women and girls have the full enjoyment of all human rights and can attain the highest living standards possible and equal participation in the economic, social and political life of their communities;
  • strengthen the role of relevant national mechanisms and scale up resources for gender equality and empowerment of women;
  • promote effective representation and participation of women in all spheres of decision-making, including the political process at all levels.

Development partners are requested to support the LDCs in their implementation of the above tasks.

Also see:


25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the RTD

See also

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