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No. 374, 8 June 2021

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Elaboration of a new draft Convention on the Right to Development kicks off at the UN


The Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) on the Right to Development met virtually for its 21st session from 17-21 May 2021 to discuss a new draft Convention on the Right to Development. The session had originally been scheduled for May 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Working Group was chaired by Ambassador Zamir Akram as Chair-Rapporteur for the session. Ambassador Akram has been leading the work of the Working Group since 2015. Prior to that, he served as Pakistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and other International Organizations in Geneva from 2008 till 2015.

Amb. Akram participating virtually in the 21st Session of the IGWG.

The main topic on the agenda was the presentation and discussion of a new draft Convention on the Right to Development, which was published by the Chairperson in January 2020. The draft Convention has been prepared by a drafting group, composed of five recognized experts in the field of international law and with due respect to equitable gender and geographical representation. The text was also circulated among a select group of 10 experts representing all regions to review the draft and to share comments and suggestions before its publication. The session saw participation of around 100 representatives from States, intergovernmental organizations and civil society.

The session was opened by a statement by H.E. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who highlighted the right to development as a vital human right and integral to the realization of all other rights. She stressed that the pandemic had exacerbated systemic inequalities and structural discrimination – disproportionately affecting people living in poverty and in marginalized situations. She also highlighted that including those lagging most behind in the right to development demands better governance of global economic frameworks as well as the need for all States to cooperate in fostering development for all. Finally, she stressed on the need to create robust systems for accountability, transparency, integrity, participation and inclusion to encourage and support strong multilateralism, shared responsibility and growth in solidarity among countries.

In his opening remarks, the Chair-Rapporteur highlighted the devastating impacts that COVID-19 has had on the right to development globally, and emphasized that the pandemic has increase vulnerability and inequality among and within countries. Amb. Akram further emphasized that the most detrimental effects of this crisis could have been adverted if effective implementation of the right to development was guaranteed before the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, he encouraged States to work together to ensure the full realization of the right to development.

In the general statements, country groupings including the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union (EU), and States including Pakistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, Nepal, Namibia, Chile, the Philippines, Burkina Faso, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Brazil, Sri Lanka, the Syrian Arab Republic, South Africa, Uruguay, Indonesia, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, India, Mexico and Cuba took the floor. Many States expressed their support to the process of elaborating a draft Convention on the Right to Development and looked forward to constructive discussions. The EU, UK and some other States, while supporting the right to development, expressed views that the adoption of a legally binding Convention might not be the most appropriate mechanism to move forward for its full realization. Civil society organizations also participated actively throughout the session and expressed their strong support to the draft Convention.

The second session of the first day saw an interactive dialogue with the Chair of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, Ms. Klentiana Mahmutaj, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to development, Ambassador Saad Alfarargi. Both provided an overview of the work they had undertaken recently in the context of their mandates. The Expert Mechanism had recently held its 3rd session for the presentation and discussion of its draft thematic reports, the first of which is due to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September. Amb. Alfarargi highlighted his recent thematic reports regarding financing for development at the national and international levels, as well as an upcoming report which will focus on climate change related policies and projects from a right to development perspective. Certain questions were raised on the duplication of efforts between these mechanisms, but it was clarified that the three mechanisms on the right to development had different mandates which were complementary to each other, and that greater synergy should be ensured among them.

The next days were devoted to the presentation and discussion on the draft Convention. The text of the draft Convention, including commentaries on its provisions prepared by the experts from the drafting group, was published in January 2020 and was presented for the first time to the IGWG in this session. The draft Convention is composed of a preamble and 5 parts comprising 36 Articles.


The experts from the drafting group were invited to present the different sections and Articles of the draft Convention, including the rationale and means of possible implementation of the provisions. Delegations expressed their views, sought clarifications and provided suggestions for the drafting group and the Chair-Rapporteur to take into consideration for improving the text. Key discussions were focused on the (lack of) definition of “development” and the inclusion of a reference to a human-rights based approach to development. The main elements of the preamble, which lists both binding international agreements and non-binding declarations, were also discussed, with the length of the preamble being highlighted.

The experts from the drafting group emphasized that the draft Convention was not seeking to impose new obligations upon States but sought to draw upon existing State obligations regarding the right to development, international human rights law, and the UN Charter. According to the discussants, the nature of such obligations were fully in compliance with the States’ sovereignty.

Discussions also highlighted the inclusion of possible extraterritorial obligations for States in the draft Convention, as well as gender mainstreaming in the text. The draft Convention also proposes the possibility of setting up a Conference of Parties and an implementation mechanism. The final provisions are very similar to existing human rights conventions, particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Conclusions and Recommendations for the Working Group were subjected to extensive consultations among States participating in the session. While the EU and other similarly inclined States wished to integrate their ‘divergent views’ into the conclusions, other States recognized that an international instrument of a binding nature on the right to development could support its realization for all, and stop all measures that might have a negative impact on the right to development. After extensive informal consultations among States, it was agreed to fully reflect both positions in the report. In the final recommendations, the Working Group has requested the Chair-Rapporteur to conduct further consultations with the different stakeholders, as well as to continue the collaboration with the Expert Mechanism and the Special Rapporteur.
The draft Convention on the Right to Development with commentaries (A/HRC/WG.2/21/2/Add.1) is available here.

Authors: Daniel Uribe is Lead Programme Officer and Danish is Programme Officer of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Programme (SDCC) of the South Centre. 
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