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International standards

OHCHR and the right to development

International human rights law provides a clear and universal framework for the promotion and protection of the right to development. The right to development is enshrined by the following norms and standards:

  1. Standards and instruments
  2. Other global documents of major importance
  3. International policy framework
  4. Regional agreements
  5. Landmarks in the recognition of development as a human right

1. Standards and instruments

International human rights law provides a clear and universal framework for the promotion and protection of the right to development. The right to development is enshrined by the following standards:

United Nations Charter

Already in 1945, the UN Charter (articles 1, 55 and 56) established the foundations of the right to development, by stating that the creation of conditions of stability and well-being are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and by mandating the UN to promote: higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development; solutions to international economic, social, health, and related problems; international cultural and educational cooperation; and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

Universal Declaration on Human Rights

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights contains a number of elements that are related to the right to development: it contains the concepts of promotion of social progress and better standards of life, recognizes the right to non-discrimination, the right to participate in public affairs and the right to an adequate standard of living. It also contains everyone's entitlement to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration can be fully realized (article 28).

International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 1 of both Covenants states that '[a] ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.' Furthermore it states that '[a] ll peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources … In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.'

2. Other global documents of major importance

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development: The right to development was reaffirmed in 1992 in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, in which it is stated that the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations (principle 3).

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VD): In paragraph 10 of part I of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VD), adopted by consensus in 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights reaffirmed the right to development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights. It also reaffirmed that least developed countries committed to the process of democratization and economic reforms should be supported by the international community in order to succeed in their transition to democracy and economic development. The VD further stated that the right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. With regard to implementation, the VD stated the needs for: the formulation of effective national development policies and equitable international economic relations (para. 10); effective international cooperation (paras. 10 and 13); and international support for countries committed to the process of democratization and economic reforms (para. 9). It also emphasized the importance of removing obstacles to development, among others: human rights violations, racism, colonialism and foreign occupation; and of increasing the resources devoted to development.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The preamble of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/61/295) makes explicit reference to the right to development, expressing concern that “indigenous peoples have suffered from historic injustices as a result of, inter alia, their colonization and dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, thus preventing them from exercising, in particular, their right to development in accordance with their own needs and interests”. Under article 23 of the Declaration, indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. They have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions.

UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas: Article 3.2 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (A/RES/73/165) also explicitly states that “[p]easants and other people working in rural areas have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies to exercise their right to development”. The right to the development of peoples can also be found in the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) of the International Labour Organization.

3. International policy framework

In 2015, the right to development was explicitly recognized in four key internationally agreed policy documents:

i) The Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (General Assembly resolution 69/313, annex);

In the opening paragraph of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, it is stated that its parties are committed to respecting all human rights, including the right to development. The document refers to human rights and fundamental freedoms, along with good governance, the rule of law and access to justice as integral to the cross-cutting commitment to promote peaceful and inclusive societies — language similar to that used in Sustainable Development Goal 16.

ii) The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (General Assembly resolution 69/283, annex II);

In the guiding principles for the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (para. 19 (c) of the Framework), it is stated that managing the risk of disasters is aimed at protecting persons and their property, health, livelihoods and productive assets, as well as cultural and environmental assets, while promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development.

iii) "Transforming our world: the Agenda for Sustainable Development";

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the biggest contemporary policy document where a tangible link is made between the right to development and sustainability. The Agenda is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of States under international law. The key principles of the Declaration on the Right to Development are reaffirmed throughout the Agenda, which recognizes the need to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies 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.

ix) The Paris Agreement on climate change (FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1, decision 1/CP.21, annex)

In the preamble of the Paris Agreement it is stated that the parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, including the right to development.

4. Regional agreements

Charter of the Organization of American States: Article 33 of the Charter of the Organization of American States reads that development is a primary responsibility of each country and should constitute an integral and continuous process for the establishment of a more just economic and social order that will make possible and contribute to the fulfilment of the individual.

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: The 53 States parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights are legally bound to ensure the exercise of the right to development, which is included in article 22 of that Charter. The right to development is also recognized in article 10 of the African Youth Charter and article 19 of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Arab Charter on Human Rights (adopted in Cairo on 15 September 1994): Under article 37 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights States are required to establish development policies and take the measures needed to guarantee that right; States parties have a duty to give effect to the values of solidarity and cooperation among them and at the international level with a view to eradicating poverty and achieving economic, social, cultural and political development; and by virtue of the right to development, every citizen has the right to participate in the realization of development and to enjoy the benefits and fruits thereof.

Human Rights Declaration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (adopted by the Heads of State/Government of ASEAN Member States, 18 November 2012): Article 37 of the Human Rights Declaration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations calls upon member States to mainstream the multidimensional aspects of the right to development into the relevant areas of Association of Southeast Asian Nations community.

5. Landmarks in the recognition of development as a human right

A chronology of major developments before and after the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development.

Year

Developments

Excerpts, references, provisions, mandates, commitments and remarks from the corresponding sources

1944

Declaration of Philadelphia, General Conference of the International Labour Organization (1944)

All human beings, irrespective of race, creed or sex, have the right to pursue both their material well-being and their spiritual freedom in conditions of freedom and dignity, of economic security and equal opportunity.

1945

UN Charter

> to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom (preamble);
> to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion (Article 1);
> to promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development (Article 55).
> to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organization for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55 (Article 56).

1948

Charter of the Organization of the American States

Each State has the right to develop its cultural, political, and economic life freely and naturally. In this free development, the State shall respect the rights of the individual and the principles of universal morality (Article 17).

1948

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (GA res. 217 A (111))

> All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood (Article 1).
> Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services (Article 25);
> Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized (Article 28).

1960

Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (GA res. 1514 (XV))

> All peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom and to the exercise of their sovereignty and territorial integrity;
> All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

1961

Programme for the First United Nations Development Decade (GA res. 1710 (XVI))

> All States were called to intensify their efforts to mobilize and to sustain measures to achieve self-sustaining growth of nations and their social advancement.
> Appealing for more "equitable" and "mutually acceptable" economic relations between developed and developing countries, the GA reaffirmed the duty of States to cooperate internationally and express solidarity to create the conditions necessary to achieve the target set.

1962

Declaration on permanent sovereignty over natural sources (GA res. 1803 (XVII))

The Declaration proclaimed the inalienable right of peoples and nations to permanent sovereignty over their natural wealth and resources, and that such sovereignty was a basic constituent of the sovereign and inalienable right of peoples to self-determination, including development.

1965

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (GA res. 2106 (XX))

The Convention condemned all forms of racial discrimination against individuals and groups; further defined some of the basic principles on which the right to development is based – non-discrimination, equality and social justice.

1966

International Covenants on Human Rights – Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GA res. 2200A (XXI))

Both Covenants recognize that "…the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights" (third preambular common paragraph).

1968

Proclamation of Teheran, International Conference on Human Rights

The Final Act of the Conference states that achievement of lasting progress in the implementation of human rights is dependent upon sound and effective national and international development policies of economic and social development.

1969

Declaration on Social Progress and Development (GA res. 2542 (XXIV))

> The Declaration affirmed that the aim of social progress and development is “the continuous raising of the material and spiritual standards of living of all members of society, with respect for and in compliance with human rights and fundamental freedoms” (Part II, Objectives)
> All peoples and all human beings, without distinction as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, family or social status, or political or other conviction, shall have the right to live in dignity and freedom and to enjoy the fruits of social progress and should, on their part, contribute to it (Article 1)

1970

Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (GA res. 2625 (XXV))

The Declaration reaffirms and elaborates upon the principle of equal rights and self-determination contained in the Charter of the United Nations, reaffirmed in common article 1 of the two International Covenants on Human Rights and subsequently incorporated in article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development.

1970

International Development Strategy for the Second United Nations Development Decade (GA res. 2626 (XXV))

The Strategy recognized the interdependence of development and human rights, including the right of peoples to self-determination and the related concept of popular participation.

1974

Declaration on the Establishment of a New International Economic Order (GA res. 3201 (S-VI))

The Declaration affirmed inter alia that the present international economic order is in direct conflict with current developments in international political and economic relations. Since 1970 the world economy had experienced a series of grave crises which had severe repercussions, especially on the developing countries because of their generally greater vulnerability to external economic impulses.

1974

Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States (GA res. 3281(XXIX))

The Charter aimed at the establishment of a new international economic order based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, irrespective of their economic and social systems, and to contribute to the creation of conditions for the eradication of injustices and inequalities, for social and economic progress of the developing countries and of other countries, and for the strengthening of world peace and security.

1980

International Development Strategy for the Third United Nations Development Decade (GA res. 35/56)

It underlined the relationship between human rights and development, the individual and the collective, national and international justice, and the need for a new international economic order and structural changes at the national and international levels aimed at the democratization of institutions and decision-making processes.

1981

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind (Article 22).

1986

DECLARATION ON THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT (GA RES. 41/128)

1992

Rio Declaration on Environment and Development

The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations (Principle 3).

1993

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

> The World Conference on Human Rights (for the first time all UN Member States by consensus) reaffirmed the right to development, as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights;
> The international community should promote an effective international cooperation for the realization of the right to development and the elimination of obstacles to development;
> Lasting progress towards the implementation of the right to development requires effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favourable economic environment at the international level. (para. 10).

1994

Cairo Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development

The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet the population, development and environment needs of present and future generations.

1995

Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action of the World Summit for Social Development
 

Promoting the realization of the right to development through strengthening democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and through effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favourable economic environment at the international level.

1995

Beijing Declaration and Platform for ActionFourth World Conference on Women

We reaffirm our commitment to the equal rights and inherent human dignity of women and men and other purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments, in particular …, as well as … and the Declaration on the Right to Development.

2000

Millennium Declaration

“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.”

2002

Monterrey Consensus of the International Conference on Financing for Development

Freedom, peace and security, domestic stability, respect for human rights, including the right to development, and the rule of law, gender equality, market-oriented policies, and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies are also essential and mutually reinforcing.

2004

Arab Charter on Human Rights

The right to development is a fundamental human right and all States are required to establish the development policies and to take the measures needed to guarantee this right. They have a duty to give effect to the values of solidarity and cooperation among them and at the international level with a view to eradicating poverty and achieving economic, social, cultural and political development. By virtue of this right, every citizen has the right to participate in the realization of development and to enjoy the benefits and fruits thereof (Article 37).

2005

World Summit Outcome

“We resolve further to strengthen the United Nations human rights machinery with the aim of ensuring effective enjoyment by all of all human rights and civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.”

2007

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their right to development. In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions (Article 23).

2010

Outcome document of the High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals

We also reaffirm the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development, the rule of law, gender equality and an overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development.

2011

Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020

Equity at all levels is indispensable for the pursuit of long-term prosperity and the realization of all the internationally recognized human rights, including the right to development by all.

2012

Doha Mandate, 13th United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

Development strategies should be inclusive and designed to meet human needs. People have similar needs and aspirations, including freedom, human rights including the right to development, …

2012

Future We Want, Rio+20 Outcome Document, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development

“We (the Heads of State and Government and high-level representatives) also reaffirm the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, …”

2012

ASEAN Human Rights Declaration

The Declaration devoted a section to the Right to Development (see Articles 35-37) and stated, inter alia, that ASEAN Member States should mainstream the multidimensional aspects of the right to development into the relevant areas of ASEAN community building and beyond, and shall work with the international community to promote equitable and sustainable development, fair trade practices and effective international cooperation.

2015

Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development

“We, the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives, … commit to respecting all human rights, including the right to development” (para. 1)

2015

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030

In the guiding principles for the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (para. 19 (c) of the Framework), it is stated that managing the risk of disasters is aimed at protecting persons and their property, health, livelihoods and productive assets, as well as cultural and environmental assets, while promoting and protecting all human rights, including the right to development

2015

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals

“The new Agenda is … informed by other instruments such as the Declaration on the Right to Development” (para. 10) “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” (para. 35)

2015

The Paris Agreement on climate change

In the preamble of the Paris Agreement it is stated that the parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, including the right to development (FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1, decision 1/CP.21, annex).

For further information, please see Question and Answer No 3 in the Frequently Asked Questions on the Right to Development.