“Realizing the Right to Development” – a vision for transformative development

“Across the globe, millions are suffering the merciless, often devastating, effects of the many global crises of our age. The global financial and economic crisis, the food crisis, the energy crisis and the climate crisis have converged in a multi-front assault on human dignity,” said the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay in the foreword to the publication, Realizing the Right to Development: Essays in Commemoration of 25 Years of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development.

The publication, which was recently launched by the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva and New York, strives to revitalize the right to development, which entitles all people to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development.

During her opening address for the launch of the publication, Pillay highlighted that since the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development in 1986, its vision of a world where everyone is entitled to “participate fully and to share equitably” has been ignored, as economic growth has become essentially the sole end of development.

“Control of the direction of economic activity has slipped further and further into the invisible hands of markets and private sector actors, and further and further away from the imperatives of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights,” she said.

Pillay drew attention to the millions of people who do not have access to basic resources, including the 842 million people who do not have enough to eat (98 per cent of whom live in developing countries), the 1.7 billion with no access to clean water and the 7 million children who die from malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia, as a result of not having access to health care.  

Thomas Pogge, a Professor at Yale University and speaker at the New York book launch event, added that the death toll caused by poverty is currently the highest in human history, highlighting that 50,000 people die per day, due to poverty-related causes.

The publication, which is the outcome of three years of intensive efforts, clarifies the meaning and status of the right to development, as they are applied to national development policies and governance as well as to the issues of aid, debt, trade, technology transfer, intellectual property, access to medicines, climate change and sustainable development. It also presents a wealth of resources on the right to development’s practical application at all levels and identifies how international cooperation can be strengthened to ensure people-centred development and facilitate global governance and accountability based on right to development principles such as equality, representation and participation for all.

During an Author Roundtable in Geneva, which followed the launch of the publication, the UN Human Rights Office’s Director of the Human Rights Council and Special Procedures Division, Bacre Ndiaye, highlighted the tragic stories of migrants who drowned at Lampedusa trying to reach the shores of Italy and the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, who he says might have had a different fate if their right to development had been upheld.

“These are all but two cases of what history has to tell of the countless men, women and children who could have decided their own development and defined their own destinies— if only they had a choice,” he said.

Tamara Kunanayakam, the Chairperson of the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on the Right to Development, spoke of the global contribution this publication will make by presenting “an alternative vision of society”, and by serving as a reminder of the relevance and validity of the principles and values reflected in the Declaration on the Right to Development.

To conclude her remarks, Pillay recalled the words of the Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, Wangari Maathai, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground… That time is now.”

 24 December 2013

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