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Intersessional Seminar on the Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of All Human Rights

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Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

28 May 2021

Distinguished President of the Council,
Ambassador Chen,
Colleagues, Friends

The contribution of development to ensuring freedom from want is very clear. In terms of advancing education and access to fundamental rights and services; promoting gender equality and fundamental civic freedoms – in other words, a host of essential human rights goals – sustainable and inclusive development is essential.

Indeed, this is the/a core principle of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development –  in itself nourished by the Declaration on the Right to Development, which broke new ground in the universal struggle for greater human dignity, freedom, equality and justice.

I am convinced that human rights and sustainable development are interlocking and conjoined: at best, they advance each other.

The goal of sustainable development is to improve the wellbeing of every member of society within planetary boundaries. As my Office has frequently noted, people are not the how of development - not tools that can be exploited to produce greater wealth for limited elites. They are the why. True development generates greater social justice, not deeper exploitation; and it reduces the harsh inequalities that threaten fundamental human rights, in particular the rights of those who are marginalized and poor. It is development of the people, by the people and for the people – considering also the needs of future generations, and the health of our planet.

There is no question that all these challenges have become much more complex over the past 18 months. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many economies, societies, communities and individuals to their knees. Climate change is advancing towards tipping points that may be irreversible. Extreme poverty and inequalities are growing, including inequalities between countries: the vaccine gap between wealthy and developing countries is a stark example of the severity of these fractures.  

It is crucial to put human rights at the center of development. This is why the Secretary-General has called for a New Social Contract, backed by a New Global Deal – which he outlines in his recent Vision Statement to the General Assembly as a dual initiative "to save succeeding generations from the scourges of war, climate change, pandemics, hunger, poverty and injustice", based on equal rights and opportunities for all.

As the Secretary-General emphasized, "Pandemic recovery is our chance to engineer a re-set, reignite the Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals and chart a path to a more equitable future."

Action is needed on many fronts – and fast. Faced with collapsing trade, falling remittances, capital flight, currency depreciation and lack of sufficient international development assistance, poor countries are often forced to choose between providing basic services for their people and servicing their debt.

Reduced fiscal and policy space is limiting their ability to undertake the investments that can fulfill the minimum, essential levels of rights that must be upheld at all times – including during times of crisis.

The more we delay our response, the greater the destruction of lives and livelihoods will be.

In that spirit, I welcome this timely and important seminar.

Member States; UN agencies, funds and programmes; national human rights institutions; civil society activists; development experts and others can help us to identify key areas where we must move forward, and share examples of good practices and experiences.

International development cooperation and solidarity; policies to fight poverty and inequality; and initiatives to close the digital gap and to promote inter-connectivity are just some of the very relevant issues that will be spotlighted in your discussions.

These will, I hope, be priority areas for development work, as well as human rights work, in the coming months and years.

They call for a new spirit of partnership – a recognition that beyond the disagreements that may sometimes divide the development and human rights communities, fundamentally we share the same goals.

To end discrimination and deprivation. To advance human dignity and human equality. And to realize the well-being and rights of our fellow people.

Thank you for your contributions to this discussion.

Thank you.