Statement by the Assistant Secretary General at the 7th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
03 April 2023
Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
7th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development
Chair and members of the Expert Mechanism,
It is a pleasure to join you today for the seventh session of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development. This is the third time that a session of the Mechanism convenes in New York, but the first time that it meets at United Nations Headquarters for an in-person session. A very warm welcome to you all.
This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – A “constitution of the whole of humanity” that has guided the work of the United Nations since its establishment. Three years ago, in his Call to Action for Human Rights, the Secretary-General underscored that human rights are central to the world’s most pressing issues, recalling that sustainable development is underpinned by all human rights, including the right to development.
More recently, at his February briefing to the General Assembly on Priorities for 2023, the Secretary-General stressed the key role of the right to development to achieve peace, end poverty and hunger, and reorient the global financial architecture. The right to development is an important framework to guide our efforts in addressing inequalities and injustices and in achieving sustainable development, while ensuring the right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment.
In 1986, when the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, the United Nations comprised 159 Member States and five billion people. Today, the Organization counts 193 Member States and serves eight billion people.
Over the course of these past four decades, some progress has been made towards “equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources” as articulated in article 8 of the Right to Development Declaration. This includes reduction of extreme poverty and advances towards gender parity in education.
At the same time, we have undoubtedly regressed in too many areas.
The climate crisis has accelerated. The past eight years were the warmest on record. Ocean heat is at records level and the Greenland ice sheet has lost mass every year since 1997.
Languages are rapidly disappearing. Every two weeks, an indigenous language reportedly dies, threating not only indigenous peoples’ enjoyment of social, cultural and political development but their very identity and self-determination.
The debate around development has also changed. It has taken different shapes and directions in response to changing national, regional and global contexts. We can see that, for example, in the evolution from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals. The latter is firmly anchored in human rights and the understanding that development can only be achieved when its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental – are integrated.
The right to development means that it is people determine who the meaning of development. This implies that development is context-specific and evolves over time.
Understanding development as a human right further implies the recognition of development as a multi-dimensional concept that should address economic, social, cultural, political and environmental challenges and concerns.
Therefore, rules, policies and practices pertaining to development at national, regional and international levels should seek to achieve social justice and socio-economic well-being within the boundaries set by ecological sustainability. And in no case should development rules, policies and practices entail, or lead to, violations of human rights.
Against this context, the work undertaken by the Expert Mechanism plays a vital role. It does so not only by reinvigorating the debate on the development and the right to development, but also in making practical recommendations for its effective implementation. During the three years since its establishment, the Mechanism has engaged with a wide range of stakeholders to deepen the understanding of this right among different constituencies and how to apply it in their daily work.
Let us also emphasize that its work assumes particular significance in the lead up of the SDG Summit this September, including by highlighting how the right to development can meaningfully contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda on development.
I wish you fruitful discussions and look forward to your recommendations.
 Including through its annual sessions in Geneva and New York and through its study visits. It has developed five studies, three of which will be discussed and adopted at this session, and has carried out workshops with civil society organizations to empower them in the use of the right to development framework in their daily work.