“We, heads of State and Government, … are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.”
UN Millennium Declaration

Right to Development

Development is a Human Right

“In Search of Dignity and Sustainable Development for All”, Right to Development Anniversary Side Event, 29 February 2016

The new Agenda recognizes the need to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights (including the right to development), on effective rule of law and  good governance at all levels and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions.

Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development


Significant progress has been made in global efforts towards realising the vision of the 1986 United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development1 (‘the Declaration’).

  • Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.
  • The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990.
  • Globally, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation and 91% of the global population is using an improved drinking water source, compared to 76% in 1990.
  • The global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half. Since 1990, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45% worldwide.
  • The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide has fallen by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000.
  • Official development assistance increased by 66% in real terms between 2000 and 2014, reaching $135.2 billion.
  • The proportion of external debt service to export revenue in developing countries fell from 12% in 2000 to 3% in 2013.2

Yet for all these gains, progress has been uneven, particularly in Africa, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing States3. Globally, persistent poverty and rising inequalities remain among the many interconnected threats to peace and security, human rights and development. Consequently, the global commitment to “making the right to development a reality for everyone”4 contained in the Millennium Declaration remains unfulfilled in several respects:

  • Millions of people are being left behind, especially the poorest and those disadvantaged because of their sex, age, disability, ethnicity or geographic location5. In 2011, nearly 60% of the world’s one billion extremely poor people lived in only five countries6.
  • Just 62 individuals now hold the same wealth as 3.6 billion others7, the poorer half of humanity. Around $7.6 trillion of personal wealth is said to be hidden in offshore accounts8 and developing countries are estimated to be losing $170 billion a year to tax havens9.
  • Under-five mortality rates are almost twice as high for children in the poorest households as for children in the richest10. In rural areas, only 56% of births are attended by skilled health personnel, compared with 87% in urban areas11. 11 children under age 5 die every minute, and 33 women die every hour from pregnancy and childbirth complications12. 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries13.
  • Over 40% of the global youth labour force is unemployed or working yet living in poverty14.
  • While Official Development Assistance (ODA) increased substantially over the past 15 years, ODA to Least Developed Countries has declined in recent years15.
  • The $135 billion in total ODA from OECD DAC countries, equivalent to 0.29 per cent of developed-country combined gross national income lags far behind the longstanding commitment of countries to devote 0.7 per cent of their GNI to ODA16.
  • If unaddressed, climate change risks pushing more than 100 million into poverty by 203017. Serious mitigation efforts and sustainable development is urgently needed.
  • Insufficiently regulated globalization and multiple global crises and conflicts, including those over natural resources are on the rise, and worldwide each year, around USD 1.7 trillion is spent on arms18. In this context, displacement and forced migration are set to continue, and millions of people still leave their homes in search of dignity and hope in distant places.

The successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires an enabling environment at both national and international levels. The Declaration on the Right to Development, which turns 30 in 2016, provides a normative framework for such an enabling environment: grounded in development, peace and security and human rights.

2015 provided new hope for realising the vision of the Declaration on the Right to Development. The commitments made in the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development (AAAA) and the Paris Climate Agreement gave new impetus to this vision. Strongly grounded in international human rights standards, the new Agenda sets out a transformative vision for people and planet-centred, human rights-based, and gender-sensitive sustainable development.

The 2030 Agenda “is informed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.”19. It recognizes “the need to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies that provide equal access to justice and that are based on respect for human rights (including the right to development), on effective rule of law and good governance at all levels and on transparent, effective and accountable institutions.”20. The international human rights framework in particular the right to development will remain critical to create an enabling environment for the realisation of the transformative ambition of the new Agenda.

The Declaration proclaimed development to be a right, with active, free and meaningful participation in development and fair distribution of its benefits. It places on States and on the international community, duties to make national and international development policies aimed at the constant improvement of human well-being and a duty to cooperate to ensure development and eliminate obstacles to development. It supports peace and disarmament, upholds the right to self-determination and to full sovereignty over all natural wealth and resources; and makes equality of opportunity for development ‘a prerogative both of nations and of individuals who make up nations.’21

The Declaration on the Right to Development addresses the root causes, systemic issues and structural challenges, in its quest for a new order for development at all levels. It further recognises the need for an enabling environment which is conducive to peace, human rights and socially and ecologically sustainable development. Likewise, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledges the need to go far beyond the traditional development paradigm of the Millennium Development Goals. It recognizes that issues of freedom from want and freedom from fear need to be addressed together. More specifically, SDG 16 aims to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.

This addresses civil and political rights, personal security, access to justice and rule of law, corruption, good governance, fundamental freedoms and non-discrimination.

Like the Declaration, the overall aim of the new Agenda is “to leave no one behind.”  It includes a key commitment to “reaching the furthest behind first” by ensuring that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets are met “for all nationals and peoples and for all segments of society”. This is encapsulated in SDG 5 on “Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls” and SDG 10 on “Reducing inequalities within and between countries”. Together with the AAAA, SDG 17 on “Strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnerships for sustainable development” provides new momentum for realizing the right to development.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development, OHCHR is organizing a side event in collaboration with partners to discuss its relevance to sustainable development. This will provide a space for open and interactive dialogue (pre-prepared written statements by participants are discouraged) among governments, UN system agencies, international and non-governmental organizations, academia, students and others. The event will contribute to greater understanding of the right to development, its vision, paradigm and approach, with a view to better harnessing its potential for enabling dignity and sustainable development for all. This will include discussion of practical means to operationalize, integrate, claim and build capacity on the right to development.


  • To consider how operationalizing the Declaration on the Right to Development will create an environment conducive for the realization of the 2030 Agenda
  • To reflect on how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can support the realization of the right to development
  • To discuss means to integrate, claim and build capacity on the right to development among local communities, and research and educational programmes  


Mr. Craig Mokhiber, Chief, Development, Economic and Social Issues Branch, OHCHR, will introduce, chair and moderate the session.

H. E. Mr. Zamir Akram, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development and former Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations in Geneva, ‘Future Steps towards the Right to Development after adoption of the 2030 Agenda’;

Dr. Mihir Kanade, Head of the Department of International Law and Human Rights and Director of the Human Rights Centre, United Nations-mandated University for Peace (UPEACE), Costa Rica, 'Advancing Peace, Rights and Well-being: A Right to Development Approach to SDGs as the Way Forward';

Dr. Priscilla Schwartz, Senior Lecturer in Law and Director, Energy and Natural Resources Law Programme, School of Business and Law, University of East London, UK, ‘Powering the Right to Development: Sustainable Energy in a Changing Climate’;

Dr. Maria Mercedes Rossi, Main representative of Association Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII (APG23) to the United Nations in Geneva and Representative of the Forum of Catholic – Inspired NGOs, ‘Claiming the Right to Development for Social Justice in Development’.

For more information including on the Factsheet on the Right to Development and the publication ‘Realizing the Right to Development’ please visit www.ohchr.org

For attendees without UN badges please send a request for registration by e-mail to R2D@ohchr.org




1. UNGA Resolution 41/128.

2. All the above figures are from the 2015 Millennium Development Goals Report, United Nations, New York, 2015. (‘2015 MDGs Report’).

3. Para. 16, ‘Transforming our world: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, UNGA Resolution A/RES/70/1.

4. Para. 11, UNGA Resolution 55/2.

5. 2015 MDGs Report.

6. 2015 MDGs Report.

7. ‘An Economy for the 1%’, Oxfam Briefing Paper, 18 January 2016, https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/economy-1.

8. https://www.oxfam.org/en/campaigns/even-it-up.

9. http://radioonefm90.com/oxfam-to-stop-tax-havens-in-developing-countries/

10. 2015 MDGs Report.

11. 2015 MDGs Report.

12. WHO, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2014/maternal-mortality/en/
 Human Development Report 2015, UNDP, http://hdr.undp.org/en/rethinking-work-for-human-development

13. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/

14. Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015, International Labour Organisation, 2015. http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_412014/lang--en/index.htm

15. 2015 MDG Gap Task Force Report, United Nations, New York, 2015.

16. 2015 MDG Gap Task Force Report.

17. Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty, Climate Change and Development Series, The World Bank, 2016, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/22787

18. World Future Council, “Disarmament for Sustainable Development,” http://www.worldfuturecouncil.org/breadtank.html

19. Para. 10, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

20. Para. 35, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

21. Preamble, Declaration on the Right to Development.