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No. 398, 17 February 2022

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The Non-Aligned Movement and South Centre organize workshop on reinvigorating the Right to Development


The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) under the chairmanship of Azerbaijan and the South Centre, jointly organized an expert level workshop for NAM Member States on 7th February 2022 to discuss how the implementation of the Right to Development (RtD) could be revitalized in the context of the 35th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development (DRtD). The workshop considered a forthcoming paper by the South Centre on the ‘International discourse on Right to Development and the need to reinvigorate its implementation’, authored by Ms. Yuefen Li, Mr. Daniel Uribe and Mr. Danish of the South Centre. 


In his opening remarks, H.E. Ambassador Galib Israfilov of Azerbaijan said that NAM Member States had expressed their interest in the organization of a workshop in the field of development and human rights, and the South Centre had accepted the invitation of the NAM Chair to collaborate with them on this important event. 

Amb. Israfilov touched upon the importance of RtD, noting that it is a milestone topic for NAM. The UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration in 1986 and promotion of its implementation has been regularly emphasised by NAM members. In the final outcome document of the Baku Summit of NAM in 2019, it was agreed by the Heads of State and Government to protect and promote all human rights, in particular the RtD as a universal, integral and inalienable human right. The NAM also submits annually a resolution on RtD to the Human Rights Council, the most recent being Resolution 48/10. 

Noting that the level of engagement of NAM members with the ongoing RtD processes could be enhanced, he said that the workshop is timely and useful to  explore how to reinvigorate the implementation on the RtD. He added that the discussions in the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group on Right to Development (OIGWG) are continuing, with particular focus on the draft convention on the RtD.


In his opening remarks, Dr. Carlos Correa, Executive Director of the South Centre, said that the RtD is very important for the South Centre and it actively supports efforts towards its effective realization. The core of the DRtD is an integrated approach towards development, which includes an economic dimension, a social dimension, and political and cultural aspects as well. The DRtD has provided a basis for development as a human right in itself, recognizing it as a comprehensive, cross-cutting and multidisciplinary right. This has been a major contribution from NAM countries and there needs to be full engagement on the side of NAM to promote its effective implementation. 

Since the adoption of the DRtD, there have been major changes in the world including significant progress in conceptualization and protection of human rights, as well as the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have development at their centre. The DRtD retains its value as the basis of an inalienable human right. Some scholars have even argued that the RtD has reached the status of jus cogens or a peremptory norm under international law. The SDGs have not overridden the RtD. The nature of SDGs is completely different from the human right recognized under DRtD. The RtD is even more important now in light of rising inequalities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ms. Yuefen Li, Senior Adviser on South-South Cooperation and Development Finance at the South Centre, then gave a detailed presentation of the forthcoming paper, explaining its salient points, conclusions and recommendations. 

Ms. Li said that while the implementation of the RtD is still insufficient and uneven, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the continuing relevance of the RtD, and that economic development should be seen as a holistic process. However, there has been a massive reversal in the realization of the RtD, including much frustration with gaps in international governance and structural obstacles far from being removed. Poverty and inequality have increased, while economic recovery is divergent between developing and developed countries. The most glaring divides are seen in access to vaccines, finance, digital tools while the pandemic has led to an explosion in the debt levels of countries, particularly public debt. The current international structure cannot provide an enabling environment for RtD. While RtD has had a long journey and is now embedded in UN documents, the MDGs and SDGs, there is a need to revitalize it for its full implementation. 

The engagement of developed countries in RtD related discussion and activities has been dwindling and their participation in the OIGWG is low. There is a highly politicised discourse on the RtD, permeated with misinterpretations. There is a misconception from some developed countries that the RtD has just been used as a means to increase  official development assistance (ODA), including through claiming the existence of legal obligations for ODA providers. However, the RtD has broader objectives and focuses on having an international enabling environment for the development of all peoples and persons. It highlights that while developing countries are responsible for their own development, they also require an enabling international system. There is a need to adjust the international order and eliminate obstacles to development. A balance should be struck between the national and international responsibility to realize the RtD. However, mature economies try to downplay their own responsibilities, with a tendency to dilute shared responsibilities of the international community. There are also many structural inequalities affecting developing countries, which give developed countries decisive influence in international financial institutions (IFIs) and other international institutions. 

The RtD also has a very important national dimension, requiring countries to design effective domestic policies for economic catch up, and to create a national environment that promotes development. There is also the misconstruction that RtD is being used to marginalize civil and political rights, and in some cases also economic, social and cultural rights. But human rights are not sequential and compliance with all human rights is essential for development. RtD itself creates no hierarchies of rights, as they are universal and interdependent.

On the issue of the SDGs and RtD, Ms. Li said that they are linked together, and their effective implementation will result in progress for both. It has been alleged by some countries that RtD has caused confusion in SDGs implementation, thereby prompting an effort to focus on achieving SDGs alone. However, the RtD is a permanent human right, extending beyond the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development gives renewed opportunities to realize the RtD as rather than being mutually exclusive with the SDGs, they are mutually reinforcing. 

The paper also covers the evolution of discussions on the RtD through analysing the voting positions of developed countries, which have not always supported the RtD. It also looks at the identification of the right holders and the duty bearers of the RtD, which includes both individuals and collectives at different levels. It also provides a snapshot of the various current and former mechanisms on the RtD, including the OIGWG, the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism. 

Regarding the conclusions and recommendations included in the report, Ms. Li said that there are many reasons for the low implementation of RtD, but recovery efforts from the pandemic have provided a new opportunity to reinvigorate RtD and fix the widening divide in many areas. Similar policy responses in countries can reinforce each other, through mainstreaming RtD in their recovery policies. 

The SDGs are underpinned by human rights, including the right to development. The UN, its affiliated offices, the international institutions like WTO, other IFIs etc. need to work together to promote RtD. IFIs have been absent from these discussions, but they need to join as stakeholders. 

National policies should consider making the RtD a priority. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has a unique responsibility for supporting the realization of RtD, and it should take the lead in mainstreaming the RtD in the UN system. Finally, the understanding of the RtD should be improved, including through refuting misinterpretations.

Following this presentation, the participants shared their views highlighting some of the issues being faced in the implementation of the RtD and asked how it could be strengthened. Questions focused on the developed countries’ limited engagement with the RtD, particularly in the OIGWG and how they could be brought back to the discussions. Another participant highlighted the reductionist approach being taken by certain developed countries, which would shift the reference to SDGs and the 2030 Agenda instead of strengthening the implementation of the RtD. It would also result in removing discussions on important issues of developing countries such as rising debt, technology transfer, access to international financial and capital markets and the use of unilateral coercive measures which have negatively impacted several NAM members. Another participant highlighted the increase in extreme poverty due to COVID-19, and asked how poverty eradication efforts could be addressed through RtD. 

In response, it was highlighted that countries need to “own” the text of the draft Convention on RtD and participate more actively in the OIGWG. On the linkage between the 2030 Agenda and RtD, it was emphasised that the RtD deals with root causes and not only indicators, and development is a holistic process that will continue even post the timeframe for achieving the SDGs. Further, it is important to consider larger challenges being faced by humanity as a whole which require the entire international community to step up and address them together. The RtD is a holistic framework around which the solutions to addressing these challenges can be fulfilled, while also ensuring the full realization of the sustainable development needs of countries and peoples.

Author: Danish is Programme Officer of the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Programme (SDCC), South Centre.

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