Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 8 October 2012

Promoting human rights and development

Last week the Social Forum of the UN Human Rights Council held an interesting discussion on various ways to promote people-centred development and needed reforms to globalisation.


The link between human rights, development and globalisation was the subject of an interesting three-day discussion at the UN Human Rights Council’s annual Social Forum held on 1-3 October at the UN building in Geneva.

It was an opportunity for social movements, NGOs, human rights experts and governments to voice their views on how ordinary people and social organisations can exercise their right to development in the face of globalisation and the many global crises.

The right to development was adopted 26 years ago by the UN General Assembly, recognising the need to overcome international and national obstacles to achieving development.

The UN Declaration on the Right to Development puts people at the centre of development, ensures people’s participation in the decisions on development as well as their obtaining the benefits of development.  It calls for an enabling environment internationally and nationally and respects self-determination and national sovereignty over natural resources.

Developing countries in particular have invoked the right to development in many international negotiations including on climate change, sustainable development, trade and finance issues, in an attempt to ensure that the developed countries do not shift an unfairly high share of obligations onto them. 

And people’s organisations at grassroots level are also making use of the right to development principle to demand that the fruits of development are equitably shared with rural communities, industrial workers and consumers, and not accrue only or mainly to owners of companies.

I took part in the Social Forum’s opening keynote panel on “people centred development and globalisation.”

The Chair of the Forum, Qatar’s Ambassador Ms. Alya Al-Thani, set the main theme, that taking a people-centred approach to development in a globalised world will help realise human rights for people around the world.

A very interesting point was made by renowned peace activist and professor, Johan Galtung (now Rector of Transcend University) that in a multi-polar and evolving world, it is important to recognise that there is a diversity of development models.

Galtung mentioned and briefly described the characteristics of six development models, namely the Western liberal, Western Marxist, Buddhist, Islamic, Japanese and Chinese models.  The right to development should not be based on only one model, but recognise the different models.

He also advocated that for people-centred development, the impetus should come from below, using the principle “lifting the bottom up.”

The important implicit conclusion that can be drawn from Galtung’s speech is that it would be unhealthy to base international discussions or negotiations on the assumption that there is only one path to development (namely the dominant Western liberal model). 

Instead there should be respect for other paths and models which have their own values and assumptions, and an international recognition of their existence and legitimacy is needed to avoid conflict.  

Ms. Delphine Djiraibe, a lawyer of the Public Interest Law Centre in Chad called for democratic governance which is necessary to enable that the benefits from natural resources are equitably shared with the people. 

Citing her country as an example, she said that oil revenues had not benefitted the majority of people who had become poorer, and the oil sector had instead exacerbated conflicts, and thus a re-design of the use and benefits from natural resources is needed.

Ms. Myrna Cunningham, Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues stressed the indigenous peoples’ desire for a development model that respects indigenous peoples’ rights.  An important point she made was the need to recognise not only the rights of individuals (which is the usual practice in human rights) but also collective rights, such as was recognised in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In my speech, I pointed out that globalisation had been driving the development agenda, and now in light of the crisis of economic globalisation, it was time for development to drive globalisation instead, and for the people-centred principle to drive development. 

The long-time double efforts of developing countries to change their domestic economy to fit their development needs, and to reform the global economic order to be supportive of developing countries, continue into the present and future.

The current battles for the right to development should be on many fronts.  They include:

  • Reforming global finance and the national financial sector and restore the role of finance as the servant of the real economy;
  • Regulating the free cross-border flows of capital and dangerous financial instruments enabled by trade and investment agreements that have led to damaging boom-bust cycles of capital flows; 
  • Addressing the renewed global economic crisis and its effects on developing countries including preventing a new debt crisis and providing finance to offset balance of payments shocks;
  • Facing up to the environment and sustainable development crises, focusing on following up on the Rio Plus 20 summit, and a global solution to the climate change crisis with equal emphasis on environmental action, equity and financial support;
  • Formulating the post 2015 UN development agenda, with international actions that are supportive of national development actions;
  • National implementation of the rights of communities and the people and the realisation of basic needs and the rights to jobs, food, health, housing, etc.

The Social Forum proceeded with many other sessions on participatory development, democratic governance, social movements, women’s rights, financing for development, the global financial system and an enabling environment for development, sustainable development and innovative approaches to development.