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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Invest in social protections and sound development, Türk urges States

The Right to Social Security, the Right to Development, and Sustainable Development

25 September 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk , UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


HR75 September Thematic Spotlight Discussion

Colleagues and Friends,

We’re often told that that setting up effective social protections – or upholding people’s right to development – is costly.

But these are not costs. They are investments.

They are keys, which unlock the capacity of individuals and societies to withstand shocks – we have seen this in particular in the context of the COVID pandemic; to unleash the benefits of economic and technological change; and open the path to development that is inclusive and sustainable.

Rarely in modern times have we seen so powerful a demonstration of the value of these and other human rights as we did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We saw that where people could benefit from swift and substantial social protections – including income support – they managed to withstand the pandemic more effectively.

We saw that institutions which empowered people to participate meaningfully in decisions were better able to retain the public’s trust.

Human rights and public health. Human rights and economic resilience. Human rights, social justice and harmonious, inclusive societies. These all go hand in hand.

The right to social security means that people must be able to find support when they are sick, injured, pregnant, unemployed, retired, when they have impairments – in short, when they are in need.

The right to development means that people must be empowered to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy a fair share of the benefits of development.

Today, with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in urgent need of rescue, these rights, which underpin it, are crucial.

Last week, the Secretary General pointed out that the Sustainable Development Goals “ provide the surest path to living up to our obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The opposite is also true: human rights provide the surest path to advancing the SDGs.

Every Sustainable Development Goal is grounded in human rights. And every single one of them is achievable by advancing the full spectrum of human rights, together.

To enable faster action to decrease extreme hunger and poverty; end discrimination; and provide clean water, quality schools, and affordable health-care , we need to focus especially on protecting the rights of people in vulnerable situations. And we need to empower all people to participate meaningfully in making decisions.

Underdevelopment is not inevitable. Nor are the extreme weather patterns we’re seeing due to climate change. Like so many of the challenges our world is enduring today, these are unnatural disasters. We create them, by choosing not to act to advance our universal human rights, and the governance that is necessary for it.

And we can repair them, by acting to uphold human rights.


When essential services are provided -- such as affordablehow and accessible health care; or support for people with disabilities that enable their right to live independently – everyone benefits.

Wherever effective social protection schemes have been set up – including in several developing countries – they show how powerful the impact can be in curbing poverty and marginalisation, reinvigorating economies, and upholding dignity, On our website , we have put up a number of short profiles of individuals whose stories clearly demonstrate this impact.

But worldwide, only 28 per cent of people with disabilities who have high support needs receive a disability benefit. Barely 22 per cent of unemployed people receive unemployment benefits to keep them afloat.

I urge all States to place investment in people’s rights at the centre of policy-making . Comprehensive and universal social protection systems, including universal healthcare, are vital.

We also need development policies that emphasise people’s right to benefit equitably from development, and their right to participate in decisions.

And we need to establish an international order in which all rights and freedoms can be fully realised, with a reformed architecture for the world’s financial and development-finance institutions; debt support; and a stronger voice for developing countries in multilateral institutions.

Seventy-five years ago, the world’s States resolved to adopt an ethos of principled, collective action – to uphold justice, and to reap the massive economic, political and social benefits that stem from human rights.

It is time to return to those core commitments of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thank you.