Why should we care about “The Right to Development”?

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The right to development is a key concept, central to analyses of the human rights implications of globalization. Though it does not yet have the status of the six covenants currently encompassed by the treaty bodies, it has been recognized by the General Assembly as an inalienable human right. The United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development recognizes that the central focus of the process of development is the human person, who should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development. Development itself is recognized as a multifaceted process that embraces the development of economic, social, cultural, and political aspects of human life.

This position is affirmed by the widely respected Human development Index advocated by the UNDP as a means of realistically assessing levels of development.

It is also affirmed by the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action on social development (UN WSSD 95). All of these positions see development as a process that enables the human person to fully enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. In fact the right to development is an amalgamation of all human rights. Because there is not yet a mechanism in place to hold states to account, there are doubts about it’s practical application.

The declaration also describes the primary responsibility of States for the creation of national and international conditions favourable to the realization of the right to development, paragraph 3 of the same article imposes a duty of cooperation in ensuring development and in eliminating the obstacles to development. While the Declaration only refers to states, organizations like the IMF that decide international economic policy are the creations of states, so should also be required to respect the right to development.

Another less known instrument worth mentioning is the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States. The Charter provides a broad framework for consideration of the basic obligations that both states and non-state actors have within the international system. (*) Article 2.2 states that “Each State has the right to regulate and supervise the activities of transnational corporations”. This would imply that should a multinational corporation be found guilty of human rights violations, the State could require remedial actions and revoke the corporation’s charter if there was a failure to cooperate.

The practice of judging development solely by economic indicators is losing credibility, as economic indicators do not adequately reflect numerous realities especially in relation to disparity of income distribution and living standards as well as the quality of people’s time or the health of the environment. The UN System of National Accounts (SNA) which every member nation must use to measure its economic position, is the primary system of values upon which economic theory and policy is based. The SNA ignores the human dimension of development, such as the work of women to sustain families, and is blind to the vital linkage between development, human rights and peace.

Economic reasoning alone cannot foresee the violent social and political forces that are so often unleashed by extreme poverty. If the forces of economic globalization continue to develop rules and structures that are blind to the central premise of people-centered development, the fear of pervasive and severe human rights violations causing destructive social and political upheavals is quite justified. Implementing the Right to Development would solve most of the problems confronting humanity, but only if we can create an ecologically sustainable economic framework that meets the needs of all people, this we cannot do until we have overcome the primacy of profit by securing the primacy of Universal Human Rights.

Josephine Grey, 2007