Updated: 2011-12-03 07:52 By Shan Chu (China Daily)
Transition from theory to action has been slow and countries have to act together to guarantee everybody the right to development
Dec 4 marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Right to Development by the UN General Assembly. On this historic occasion, people all over the world, those in developing countries in particular, should pay tribute to those who have made great contributions to the recognition of this important human right.
Though the constituent elements of the right to development are embodied in the UN Charter and other UN human rights instruments, such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, it was in 1972 that Judge Keba M’Baye of Senegal advocated that development should be regarded as a right. The UN General Assembly subsequently authorized a study on this issue in 1977.
In 1986, the United Nations endorsed the Declaration on the Right to Development, which clearly states: “The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human 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”.
Since then, the right to development has been reaffirmed by the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, as well as a series of resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council. Promotion and protection of the right to development is now included in the mandate of several UN institutions and offices.
Though a quarter of a century has passed, the transition of the right to development from theory to action has been slow, as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said: “On paper, the declaration lived. In practice, it languished.”
Certain countries, which have always claimed they fly high the flags of human rights, still do not view development as a right, nor do they agree to negotiating a binding international agreement on this topic. This minority in the international arena argues that theoretical work is needed to define the right to development, but this simply does not hold up to scrutiny as the meaning, status and ways to achieve this right are detailed in relevant UN instruments. It is these countries that are hindering the process of realizing the right to development, both in theory and in practice.
The world is entering an extraordinary historical stage and undergoing profound and complex changes. Development is becoming an increasingly important issue. Poverty still remains the obstacle for people in developing countries to fully enjoy their human rights. According to UN statistics, the population living in absolute poverty has increased by 64 million due to the international financial crisis, and nearly 1 billion people are suffering starvation. Malnutrition, inequalities and armed conflicts continue to plague people in many parts of the world, the least developed countries in particular. Rising unemployment and denial of the right to development, to a large extent, led to the turmoil in West Asia and North Africa. Even the developed countries are faced with development challenges.
Nowadays, human rights activists like to talk about Internet freedom, but a large portion of the world’s population have no access to the Internet, and there is a growing digital divide between people in industrialized countries and developing countries. For example, the Internet access rate in Asia is only 23.8 percent, significantly lagging behind the 58.3 percent in Europe. Internet freedom is important, but to enjoy this right, one should first of all have access to the Web. Therefore, the most urgent task is to bridge the digital gap and make computers and the Internet available for the majority of the world’s population.
Promoting and protecting the right to development has become a more important and pressing task than ever. So how can the universal right to development be fulfilled?
First, the right to development should be recognized at both the national and global levels. Development is a universal right. Certain Western countries should get rid of their ideological prejudices and put an end to the politicization in the debate on the right to development, so as to reach a consensus on this.
Second, every state should create favorable conditions to realize the right to development. All countries, the developed and developing ones alike, need to concentrate on development and formulate appropriate national policies for the constant improvement of the well-being of their citizens. To achieve this goal, maintaining social stability is very important, as history has repeatedly shown that stability and development go hand in hand.
Third, effective international cooperation is essential. In an interdependent world, only when all nations shake off poverty and the South and the North achieve even development, can there be common prosperity. Concerted efforts should be made to attain the Millennium Development Goals. Developed countries should honor their commitment to official development assistance, open markets, debt relief, and the transfer of advanced technologies to developing countries.
Actions speak louder than words. It is time for the international community to act together and make the right to development a reality for all.
The author is a Beijing-based scholar of international relations.