Title: The right to development: A north-south divide?
Source: UN Chronicle, Mar 1993, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p96, 2p, 1bw
Abstract: Speculates a basic difference over how much emphasis to place on the `right to development' may set the tone for a pointed debate at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. Developing countries contend political and civil rights cannot be separated from or given priority over economic, social and cultural rights; Need for some individual freedoms; Commitment of the 1966 International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Interrelationships; Obstacles to development.

UN Chronicle, March, 1993



The growing economic divide between North and South may well be reflected in the upcoming World Conference on Human Rights, as many developing and industrialized countries define their human rights concerns in sharply different terms. One basic difference over how much emphasis to place on the "right to development" may set the tone for a pointed debate at the Vienna conference.

Many developing countries contend that political and civil rights cannot be separated from or be given priority over economic, social and cultural rights. Increasingly, they have asserted that development is an essential human right and objected to what many see as the industrial countries' narrow view of human rights as solely involving political and civil liberties. Indeed, in their view, economic development and an adequate living standard are preconditions of expanded political and civil rights. Further, the "collective rights" of people, some argue, may take precedence over certain rights of individuals.

A number of industrial countries, on the other hand, contend that some individual freedoms must exist for successful development to take place. Some have pressed developing countries to open their political processes and better protect their citizens' civil rights.

Partially reflecting both points of view, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali recently declared that "development provides the foundation for human rights advances and . . . equally, human rights is the key which unlocks the creative energies of people so central to economic progress':

The UN has acknowledged development as a right, implicitly or explicitly, practically from its inception. In 1948, the right to development was confirmed in Article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized". The Universal Declaration also recognized the rights to work, to education and to an adequate standard of living. The Covenant stressed the "essential importance of international cooperation" in realizing this right.

The 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights made this commitment more explicit, obligating States to "recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living . . . including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions".

The 1969 Declaration on Social Progress and Development stated that "all peoples and all human beings . . , shall have the right . . . to enjoy the fruits of social progress and should, on their part, contribute to it".

In 1986, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, which it described as "an inalienable human right by virtue of which each 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 fully realized". The Declaration proclaims, among other things, that: the human person is the central subject of development and should be the participant and beneficiary of the right to development; all human beings have a responsibility for development; and States have the primary responsibility for creating national and international conditions that will allow the right to development to be realized.

The Declaration also states that the right to development is both an individual and a collective rightma right of "every human person and all peoples"--and adds that "equality of opportunity for development is a prerogative both of nations and of individuals".


Continuing this emphasis, the World Conference will consider "the relationship between development, democracy and the universal enjoyment of human rights, keeping in view the interrelationship and indivisibility of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights". In March and April 1992, at the second Preparatory Committee meeting for the Conference, some developing countries made it clear that they attached special importance to the subject.

India, for example, stated that the 1993 Conference needed to emphasize that development should be the central global concern, so that the weakest and the poorest were enabled to enjoy human rights. China stated that the Conference should reflect the important connection between human rights and economic development.

Declarations adopted at regional preparatory meetings for the World Conference have similarly underscored the interrelatedness of human rights and development. In the Tunis Declaration, representatives of the African States affirmed: "Political freedom when not accompanied by respect for economic, social and political rights is precarious."

The Declaration continued: "Lasting progress towards the implementation of human rights implies, at the national level, effective development policies and, at the international level, more equitable economic relations, as well as a favourable economic environment."

In part, this emphasis reflects the view of many developing countries that world attention to human rights violations has focused so far almost exclusively on such concerns as torture, executions, imprisonment without fair trial and involuntary disappearances.

Obstacles to development

During the 1992 session of the Assembly's Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural). several Asian African and Latin American delegates articulated the view that consideration of human rights should give priority to development issues.

"If there is genuine concern about the human rights situation in developing countries", said Li Daoyu of China "the primary need is to remove obstacles to development, lessen external trade, provide those countries with unconditional assistance and create a better economic environment for their survival."

Said Luis Fernando Jaramillo of Colombia: "The right to development is the pillar for economic and social rights, which must help preserve civil and political rights. The right to development is an inalienable right, yet industrialized countries fail to recognize it."

In contrast, at last year's Earth Summit, the United States qualified its support for the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development by reiterating its position that "development is not a right. On the contrary, it is a goal that we all hold, which depends for its realization in large part on the promotion and protection of the human rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

In the same vein, British delegate Henry Steel told the 1992 session of the Commission on Human Rights that unless human rights were protected by an open, fair legal system, ordinary citizens would not be motivated to play a full part in the development process.

Far from being abstract, the debate on the right to development has far-reaching economic implications.

Developing countries have argued that the current state of the world economy is not conducive to the expansion of human rights. Foreign debts of developing countries currently amount to more than $1.3 trillion. Primary commodity prices, upon which most developing nations' economies depend for exports and hard currency, have reached their lowest levels since the 1930s. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, extreme poverty remains the lot of hundreds of millions of peoples.

Developing countries have also called for their efforts to be supported by an increased flow of resources and by measures creating a favourable environment for development. In particular. they want a restructuring of international economic relations.

Similar proposals were made at the 1992 session of the Commission. In the view of Nigerian delegate Olu Adeniji, most developing countries were victims of an international economic system that inhibited their economic and social development. He emphasized that the debt burden and ever-falling commodity prices had led to drops in national incomes and increasing impoverishment.

The dispute is also manifested in conflicts over international development assistance, with developing countries objecting to political conditions that are increasingly being set by donor Governments. Outside pressure to hold elections or to free prisoners, for example, is regarded as infringing on national sovereignty. Such conditionality is also viewed as selective and discriminatory.

According to the San Jose Declaration of the Latin American and Caribbean States, "when democratic Governments are making determined efforts to resolve their human rights problems, such problems should not be used for political ends or as a condition to extending assistance or socio-economic cooperation".

The Tunis Declaration, meanwhile, cautioned that "no ready-made model" of human rights "can be prescribed at the universal level since the historical and cultural realities of each nation and the tradition, standards and values of each people cannot be disregarded".

Many developing countries believed that the industrial countries are obligated to provide assistance and redress the international economic barriers in the way of economic development, such as heavy foreign debt burdens and record-low prices for the commodities developing countries export.

Thus, among the "obstacles to development" identified at the San Jose regional meeting were "poor socio-economic conditions resulting partly from the transfer of resources for the servicing of foreign debt and from the disparity in the terms of international trade".

The San Jose Declaration also cited the "shortage of resources for the institutionalization and implementation of justice". The Tunis meeting likewise noted that "the proper administration of justice and an independent judiciary" were "impossible without substantial investment".

Furthermore, observed participants at the 1990 UN Conference on Economic. Social and Cultural Rights: "In the absence of an active programme of international assistance and cooperation on the part of all those States that are in a position to undertake one, the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights will remain an unfulfilled aspiration of many countries."

Despite the different priorities of developing and industrial countries on the issue of development and human rights, there is a broad consensus that "without democracy, a people's potential for socio-economic progress cannot flower", Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Mostafizur Rahman told the UN General Assembly in 1991. But there is also a widespread concern, he said, that "without improved standards of living and a vision of the future that cannot sustain hope, democracy will wither".

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Source: UN Chronicle, Mar93, Vol. 30 Issue 1, p96, 2p, 1bw.
Item Number: 9306290380