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UN: Moving forward on Right to Development?

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva, 12 Mar 2001 -- The UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which is due to meet here from 19 March, is being asked to continue, for one year, the mandate of the Independent Expert on Right to Development (RTD), as well as extend the mandate of the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on the RTD for one session of ten working days, to continue work on the RTD.

The UN-CHR will be asked to ask the independent expert, a macro-economic and development expert of international repute, to undertake a study on the impact of a range of international economic issues including international trade, functioning of international financial institutions, intellectual property regimes and the fulfilment of international development commitments on the enjoyment of human rights.

The OEWG, chaired by Amb. Mohamed-Salah Dembri of Algeria, which has held two sessions (in September 2000 and in January-February this year), has agreed to go forward with its work, using a ‘Chairman’s conclusions’ as a basis for its further work - in effect over-riding the views of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.

These five countries tried to block any conclusions on the basis that the delegations had no instructions, and were clearly upset when Dembri presented a text of his own (that identified them as opposing).

The conclusions of the outcome of two sessions of the OEWG, which was presented on 2 February by Dembri, in a chairman’s conclusion as ‘an integral balanced package proposal’, was further discussed at an informal session of the OEWG on 26-27 February , and the final version (presented on 2 March by Dembri as conclusions not subject to negotiations) is now going forward to the Commission on Human Rights along with dissenting views (of the five countries) and comments and observations of members.

The Independent Expert is Dr. Arjun Sen Gupta of India, an internationally renowned economist who has held high official positions in economic policy-making in India as a secretary to the government and later, as a member of the Planning Commission and also a stint as India’s Executive Director on the International Monetary Fund.

The Chairman’s conclusions on the discussions in the OEWG on the Report of the Independent Expert, noted that the issue of the Right to Development (affirmed in 1986 by the UN General Assembly in a Declaration) and its consideration, began with the 1986 UN General Assembly Declaration on the RTD, and has been going through various phases (during most of which the US led the attempts to kill the whole issue) -- with arguments going back and forth since then as to whether it is a collective or individual human right, in terms of the social, economic and cultural rights of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and how it could be exercised, and whether it involves only national dimensions or also international ones.

The RTD and the UN declaration were reaffirmed in several subsequent resolutions of the CHR and the UN General Assembly, as well as in declarations at international conferences including the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which confirmed that RTD “is a universal and inalienable right”.

In his report, Dr. Sen Gupta has underlined that on the basis of these declarations and resolutions, “it should be now possible to consolidate and enhance actions in [a] concerted manner towards full implementation of the RTD, as established in the UN Declaration on RTD.”

The OEWG is chaired by Algeria’s ambassador Mohamed-Salah Dembri, and agreed to continue the work using the Chairman’s conclusions as a basis for further work.

The continuation of the mandate of the OEWG and the Independent Expert will come up before the CHR.

The chairman’s agreed conclusions includes the 10-point report of the Independent Expert, seven topics on national actions to be taken for the realization of the RTD, six topics under the heading of international actions for realization of RTD, and the future work (for extending of the mandate of the Independent Expert and that of the OEWG).

In terms of international actions, the Dembri text for further work says that the OEWG should translate through concrete recommendations the commitment made at the UN’s Millennium summit - - of making the right to development a reality for every one and the resolve to create an environment at the national and global level, which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty.

“Success in meeting these objectives depends on good governance at the international level and on transparency in the financial, monetary and trading systems, as well as an open, equitable, rule-based, predictable and non- discriminatory multilateral trading and financial system,” says the text, for further work on RTD in the area of international actions.

The creation of an enabling international environment through a clear assessment of impediments existing at the international level was highlighted. In this context, the duty of international cooperation for realization of RTD as stipulated in article 3 of the Declaration on RTD was stressed.

Bearing in mind the existing efforts in this respect, the text says, “it is necessary to enhance efforts of evaluating and addressing the impact of international economic issues such as international macro-economic decision-making, debt, burden, international trade, market access, functioning of international financial institutions, transfer of technology, bridging of knowledge gap (digital divide), impact of intellectual property regimes, fulfilment of international development commitments and migration issues on the enjoyment of human rights.”

In the above context, the Independent Expert should prepare, in consultation with all relevant UN agencies and the Bretton Woods Institutions, “a preliminary study on the impact of these issues on the enjoyment of human rights” for consideration by the OEWG in its future sessions, the chairman’s final conclusions on international actions says.

In the informal discussions on the Chairman’s draft conclusions, which the EU had been willing to accept as a basis for further work, the EC comments seemed to suggest that it would probably try to head off, in the extension of the mandate of the independent expert, his going into the issues of IFIs or the trading system or the IPR regimes etc, pointing to the related work on some of these by the Commission Special Rapporteurs.

It is clear that while the Special Rapporteurs have been approaching the issue from purely legal human rights doctrines and instruments, the major industrial nations could easily challenge them with some technical knowledge. However, it would be more difficult for them to deal with study coming from an economist of repute.

It would not be easy, for example, to try to dismiss his views by references (in the Commission’s discussions) to some study or other of the WTO, the IMF or the World Bank.

The chairman’s text also says that the necessity to prevent, address and take effective action against corruption at the international level was emphasized and States were urged to take all necessary measures to that end. Also emphasized was the need for international solidarity and cooperation for realization of the RTD, and with particular mention to the achievement of internationally agreed development commitments and targets including, inter alia, food, health, primary education and poverty eradication.

The chairman’s conclusions, on the discussions in the OEWG on the report of the independent expert, said that there was a general appreciation of the reports of the Independent Expert and of his additional work and clarifications on the ‘development compact’ proposal. This contributed to a better understanding of the proposal, but it was generally felt that further clarifications were needed.

The proposed ‘development compact’ would be of a voluntary nature for all parties involved, with its content defined on a case-by-case basis and adapted to priorities and realities of any country willing to conclude such a compact, which will need the adherence and support of all international actors involved in its implementation.

In this context, the Independent Expert was requested to further clarify the proposed ‘development compact’, taking into account the views at the OEWG, and in broad consultation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), relevant UN agencies, International and regional organizations, NGOs and, in particular, those actors and States interested in developing pilot projects in this regard, keeping in mind:

        the ongoing bilateral and multilateral development cooperation programmes, including national and regional programmes,

        the need to formulate an operational model for the ‘development compact’,

        the views of concerned international organizations, agencies and relevant regional institutions,

        the need to ensure its added value and complementarity to existing relevant mechanisms, and

        the need for country-specific studies both from national and international perspectives.

As per the UN Declaration on RTD, States have the primary responsibility for the creation of national and international conditions favourable to the realization of the RTD and their commitment to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development and a necessary complement to efforts at the national level. The human person is a central subject of development and the RTD is an inalienable 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 realized.

The realization of RTD is essential to concretise the Vienna Declaration vision on human rights as universal, indivisible, inter-dependent and inter-related. However, the lack of development may not be invoked to justify abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.

For realizing the right to development, national action and international cooperation must reinforce each other in a manner that goes beyond measures for realizing each individual rights. The international cooperation for realization of the RTD must be conducted in a spirit of partnership, in full respect of all human rights - which are universal, indivisible, inter-independent and inter-related. Although the development deficits and needs vary from one country to the other, for many developing countries, the realization of the right, inter alia, to food, health and education may be important development entry points to the realization of RTD.

In terms of national actions for RTD, the chairman’s text underscored the primary responsibility of national governments for adoption of policies, setting priorities, allocation of resources and follow-up for RTD.

The text also underscored the necessity of establishing, at the national level, an enabling legal, political, economic and social environment for the realization of RTD and, in this context, the importance of democratic, participatory, transparent and accountable governance.

Also needed were efficient national mechanisms such as a national human rights commission to ensure respect of civil, economic, cultural, political and social rights without distinction whatsoever.

Other points listed for national actions in the text were:

        necessity to prevent, address and take effective action against corruption, at the national level, including a firm legal structure for eradicating corruption, and for states to take all necessary measures to that end;

        the importance of the role of the State, civil society, free and independent media, national institutions, private sector and other relevant institutions in the realization of RTD, and the need to continue discussions on this;

        the role of women in the process of realization of RTD, including as active actors in and beneficiaries of development and further actions to ensure their participation on equal terms with men in all fields;

        promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate sustainable development;

        need for special attention to persons belonging to minorities, whether national, ethnic, religious or linguistic, as well as to vulnerable groups - such as indigenous people, Roma, migrants, persons with disabilities, children and persons infected with HIV/AIDS.-SUNS4853

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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