Right to development within the legal parameter

Muhammad Zamir   | Published: May 12, 2019 20:34:07 | Updated: May 17, 2019 21:47:05

Recent focus on corruption and many other malpractices within the socio-economic paradigm has persuaded economists and social scientists to re-visit the challenges being faced in the arena of successful development as envisaged within the goals set forth earlier through the Millennium  Development Goals (MDGs) and now through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Analysts have now come to the general conclusion that the Right to Development is an indivisible and interdependent, interrelated and mutually inclusive individual and collective right, which belongs to all individuals and peoples in all countries without discrimination on any grounds.

However, several meetings held in this regard in the recent past not only in Bangladesh but also in Geneva and New York have expressed concern that the goals of the UN Declaration of Right to Development have not yet been achieved. Participants have expressed their anxiety and then endorsed the call to transform the Declaration into a binding International Convention on the Right to Development. They welcomed the focus of the 20th Session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Right to Development in Geneva (April 29 -  May 03, 2019) and welcomed the possibility of initiating the crafting of a legally binding instrument on Right to Development.

It is interesting to note here that the Member States of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) had agreed to undertake coordinated and accelerated actions in this regard in accordance with the commitments made in the revised OIC Charter and the 2nd Ten-Year Plan of Action 2025 to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, rule of law, democracy and accountability within Member countries. It was also important to note the strong statement made by the OIC Secretary General Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen with regard to some of the formidable challenges that were affecting Member States of the United Nations in successfully implementing the requisites associated with the Right to Development. He pointed out that according to World Economic Forum (WEF) statistics corruption was siphoning off nearly US$ 3.6 trillion from global development efforts.

This is affecting initiatives to help develop some of the world's most impoverished countries. The OIC Secretary General also correctly observed that the inability among many Member States of the OIC to put an end to the problem was presenting itself as an obstacle towards achieving good governance and sustainable development. This was upsetting the programme of reduction of poverty.

The OIC-Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (OIC-IPHRC) of which I am a member at its 15th Session  reaffirmed the (a) importance of fighting against corruption, which continues to plague countries across all geographical regions and not only seriously undermines but also adversely affects people's human rights including prospective Right to Development, (b) importance of good governance and active, free and meaningful participation of all segments of society in the development, realisation, and the assessment of the Right to Development policies; (c) need to engage the private sector in the realisation of the Right to Development through innovative public-private partnerships; and (d) the importance of international cooperation in reforming the global financial governance structure in accordance with the present-day realities. The OIC-IPHRC also welcomed the participation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development at the 15th Session and underlined the need for the United Nations institutions to develop institutional linkages for sharing of knowledge and best practices. In this regard, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was requested to diversify and also intensify its inter-active engagement with other financial institutions within the OIC Member countries on specific projects related to education, health and social development.

THE GENESIS OF RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT: It may be recalled that the Right to Development was first recognised in 1981 in Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights as a definitive individual and collective right. This Article provides that: "All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind."

Subsequently, the Right to Development was proclaimed by the United Nations in 1986 in the "Declaration on the Right to Development," which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through resolution 41/128. This clarified that the Right to Development is a Group right of peoples as opposed to an individual right. This was later reaffirmed by the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The right to development is now included in the mandate of several UN institutions and offices.

It would be worthwhile to point out here that the Preamble of the Declaration on the Right to Development states "development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom." One needs to remember this because the requisite matrix requires no preferential treatment but equal regulatory facilitation irrespective of ethnic, religious or cultural background.

It is this aspect that requires one to also refer to the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action where Article 10 states " The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the "right to development", as established in the Declaration on the Right to Development, as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.

This means that States should cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development. The international community should also promote an effective international cooperation for the realisation of the right to development and the elimination of obstacles to development. Lasting progress towards the implementation of the Right to Development would consequently require effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favourable economic environment at the international level.

It would be pertinent at this point to refer to two other Declarations -

(a) The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development recognises the right to development as one of its 27 principles. In fact, Principle 3 of the Declaration states "The right to development" must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations" and

(b) Article 23 of the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples recognises their right to development as an indigenous peoples' right. It elaborates "Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for exercising their "right to development". In particular, indigenous peoples have the right to be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions."

As such, in the arena of development - be it in a developed country, developing country or in a least developed country - Right to Development must not be politicised or be partial in approach in determination of priority.

One needs to acknowledge here that the MDGs have served as a successful framework to guide international development efforts. It has helped to reduce by 2015 extreme poverty rate by half. Other targets achieved have also included access to safe drinking water, tackling problems of malaria, and gender equality in schooling.

MDGS AND SDGS: As the MDG era came to an end, 2015 marked the year that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a new agenda for development. Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon referred to this as a "defining moment in history" calling on states to "act in solidarity". Succeeding the MDG agenda, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created, with 169 indicators. UN resolution 70/1 adopted on September 25, 2015 was titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", solidifying 17 new goals that had been in motion since 2014. The goals came into force in January 2016, focusing on areas of climate change, economic inequality, democracy, poverty, and peace building.

Although the SDGs were built on the foundation of the MDGs, there are some key differences in both processes. Before adoption, unlike the MDGs, the SDGs had been in discussion for months, involving civil society actors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as an opening summit involving intergovernmental negotiations. This new global development agenda places a greater emphasis on collective action, combining the efforts of multiple stakeholders to increase the sustainability of the goals. This emphasis on sustainability has also led to more cross-sector partnerships, and combined international efforts across areas of environmental, social, cultural, political, educational and economic development.

Bangladesh has taken the meeting targets of the SDGs seriously. We are moving forward. However, at the same time it has been noted by analysts that there are areas where our functional equation for sustainable development requires not only greater strengthening of engagement with other regional institutions but also wider skill development and better regulatory governance. This will encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) and help Bangladesh to rid itself of extreme poverty and move faster up the socio-economic ladder towards being a developed country.

We must also remember that development is not simply about economic growth. It is also about giving people the ability to live their lives to the fullest potential.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.


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