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Working Group on the Right to Development, The nineteenth annual session

Opening statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore
United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva 23 April 2018
Palais des Nations, Salle VII

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor to welcome you to the nineteenth session of the Working Group on the Right to Development. 

The High Commissioner for Human Rights who is on mission sends you his personal greetings and has asked that I assure you of his continued and full support for your efforts to advance the right to development and indeed, his high expectations of the important role that you play.

As he has stated, “[…] a country’s economic development is not in itself a synonym for the fulfilment of human rights. 

Development can bring with it access to the fundamental services and goods that improve many people’s well-being and the ability to make choices about their lives. But if they cannot also voice their concerns and participate in decisions, the resulting “development” may not increase their welfare. What increases people’s welfare is respect for all their rights […] Conversely, discrimination and other human rights violations are a threat to development, just as they are a threat to peace and security.” 

This sets out our duty to both the indivisibility and the universality of human rights as upheld in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, elaborated by the International Covenants and towards realization of this interdependence, the Right to Development can make a contribution both unique and essential.

This is a year of milestones for the human rights struggle and the systems designed to elevate and protect it.  70 years have passed since Member States, under force of the tough lessons of world war – not the soft lessons of prosperity enjoyed, declared with authority that born we all are equal in dignity and rights.  25 years have passed since in the Vienna Declaration Member States made clear that lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of other internationally recognized human rights - indivisible and interdependent.  20 years have passed since the Human Rights Defenders Declaration affirmed the rights of people to stand up against the tyranny of those who would seek to deny these truths – who seek to deprive people of their rights to the material dignity of poverty alleviated by means of civil and political suppressions or their rights to civil and political participation by manipulation and deprivation of their rights to education, to health and to shelter.

It is rather redundant to remind political actors that poverty too is political.  That deprivation of the rights to development and enjoyment of its fruits is also civic deprivation, that too elevate a community from burden of extreme deprivation is also to take the gag from their mouths, to untie too their feet of participation and release the spirit of innovation, creativity and contribution.  It is not “merely” to feed the belly or heal the wound; it is as much about the shelter of the body from unjust deprivation of liberty as from the force of nature’s elements.

And to these humanising ends: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.” 

This promise of article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is echoed in the Declaration on the Right to Development according to whose third article, States have the duty to co-operate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. To this end, States should work together to build an international economic order based on sovereign equality, interdependence, and the realization of all human rights for all.

This bedrock of the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights for all, including the right to development, underpins the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and is the foundation for its just implementation. And, in this inequality and discrimination will be defining challenges. 

Every system is perfectly designed to deliver the results it is delivering.  That inequality has deepened in this century, within and between countries, suggests that - from a human rights standpoint - something gravely dysfunctional afflicts our social, international and economic order. Inequality by genders, by age, ethnicity, race, disability and other identities and by wealth and income is a root cause for instability, a driver of the brutal loss of trust in our institution and it is a deep discredit to those who are preside over our systems specifically to those that tolerate, aid, even rely, upon this stratification. 

That discrimination shadows so closely these patterns of inequality only reinforces what for some powerful actors find to be an inconvenient truth; the truth that it is our decisions that create these artificial arrangements - manufacture and reproduce them – by both omission and commission, laced with a hyper tolerance for that which should be intolerable. 

Patterns of public expenditure that seek more investment in borders rather than more in protection of those within or at those borders.  Public benefit flowing more to those who undermine it by tax avoidance, and illicit financial flows; public wealth flowing with impunity to corrupt officials; public services undermined by political interests that trumps the evidence and the facts of public need and public entitlement.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a powerful framework for addressing inequalities and for dismantling its close and constant companion, discrimination. But like the MDGs before it, by 2030 equality will not be expanded nor discrimination found in decline, if implementation of the Agenda separates itself from the values, principles and norms enshrined in international human rights instruments, including the Declaration on the Right to Development.  

In this, the means of implementation are fundamental as Member States in article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, emphasized - the maximum of the available resources for the realization of these Covenant rights is a core component of the sovereign state’s duties to its people.  

Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it is delivering.  Different results will come only from a different approach systemically, an approach in which development and globalization benefits are shared fairly, so as to leave no one behind neither by design nor neglect.  

This Working Group is mandated to play a crucial role in this important mission for humanity. 

I am pleased that this year’s session will again include an interactive dialogue with experts, which will discuss, among other things, the topic of illicit financial flows. I am also very pleased that the Working Group will hold its first interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development, Mr. Saad Alfarargi. 

This year also marks the passage of two decades since Member States decided to establish this Working Group. It makes of 2018 a good time to reflect on this mandate, its achievements and challenges, and to consider the best path to progress, on behalf, not least, of the billions of people locked in poverty around the world.  

Here, I would like to commend the leadership of the Chair-Rapporteur, Ambassador Zamir Akram, and his continued efforts and initiatives for progress. I hope that the non-paper, which the Chair-Rapporteur has submitted for your consideration, will help to move the agenda forward.

Nelson Mandela, whose 100th birthday we will celebrate this coming Friday warned that: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” 

This most certainly thus is no time for rest.

Thank you very much.


1/ http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22631&LangID=E

2/ http://www.mandela.gov.za/mandela_speeches/2005/050203_poverty.htm