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The right to development can be rooted in the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the two International Human Rights Covenants.
Through the United Nations Charter, Member States undertook to "promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom" and "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."
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights contains a number of elements that became central to the international community's understanding of the right to development. It attaches importance, for example, to the promotion of social progress and better standards of life and 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.
An important step towards the recognition of the right to development was UN General Assembly resolution 1161 (XII), made in 1957. In this resolution, the General Assembly expressed the view "that a balanced and integrated economic and social development would contribute towards the promotion and maintenance of peace and security, social progress and better standards of living, and the observance of and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."
This theme was taken up at the International Conference on Human Rights, held in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, from 22 April to 13 May 1968. The Conference expressed its belief "that the enjoyment of economic and social rights is inherently linked with any meaningful and profound interconnection between the realization of human rights and economic development." It recognized "the collective responsibility of the international community to ensure the attainment of the minimum standard of living necessary for the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons throughout the world."
In 1969, the General Assembly, in its resolution 2542 (XXIV), adopted the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, which states that "social progress and development shall aim at 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."
In its resolution 4 (XXXIII) of 21 February 1977, the UN Commission on Human Rights decided to pay special attention to consideration of the obstacles impeding the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in developing countries, and of national and international action to secure the enjoyment of those rights. Recognizing the right to development as a human right, the Commission requested the UN Secretary-General to undertake a study on "the international dimensions of the right to development as a human right in relation with other human rights based on international cooperation, including the right to peace, taking into account the requirements of the New International Economic Order and fundamental human needs." The study was submitted and considered by the Commission on Human Rights at its thirty-fifth session in 1979.
The Commission subsequently, by its resolution 36 (XXXVII) of 11 March 1981, established a working group of 15 governmental experts to study the scope and contents of the right to development and the most effective means to ensure the realization, in all countries, of the economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in various international instruments, paying particular attention to the obstacles encountered by developing countries in their efforts to secure the enjoyment of human rights. It also requested the Working Group to submit a report with concrete proposals for implementation of the right to development and for a draft international instrument on this subject.
The right to development was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1986 in the "Declaration on the Right to Development" which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 41/128.
The Declaration on the Right to Development defines such right as "an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized." (Article 1)
The Right to Development includes:
The human person is identified as the beneficiary of the right to development, as of all human rights. The right to development can be invoked both by individuals and by peoples. It imposes obligations both on individual States - to ensure equal and adequate access to essential resources - and on the international community - to promote fair development policies and effective international cooperation.
The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, dealt extensively with the right to development. It adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which recognizes that democracy, development and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
The World Conference reaffirmed by consensus the right to development as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights. It further stated that, while development facilitates the enjoyment of all human rights, lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.
As follow-up mechanism to ensure promotion and implementation of the Declaration on the Right to Development, the Commission established an intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development in 1998, and its high-level task force on the implementation of the right to development in 2004.
This set out an ambitious international agenda to tackle peace and security, development, human rights, and the environment. Alongside development goals on poverty, water and education, commitments were also made to promoting democracy and respect for all human rights. This included the right to development and relevant economic, social and cultural rights, with a particular focus on the rights of minorities, women and migrants, and the right to access to information.
In 2001, the development goals were slightly amended and published in a single list called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The eight MDGs aimed to reduce poverty, hunger and disease and promote gender equality, education, environmental sustainability and global partnerships. Achieving them required a partnership between developed and developing countries, articulated in Goal 8 which asserts the collective responsibility for international cooperation to achieve all the MDGs by the target date of 2015. The MDGs were agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.
In September 2015, 170 world leaders gathered at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda. The new Agenda covers a broad set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 167 targets and will serve as the overall framework to guide global and national development action for the next 15 years. Read more.