Human Rights and Development. (Development Watch)

By Singh, Anita Inder | UN Chronicle, March 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

Human Rights and Development. (Development Watch)


Singh, Anita Inder, UN Chronicle


Human rights and development are about enhancing individual dignity and increasing choices, chances and capabilities. Peace and security are the ultimate goals of the United Nations. In the long run, they would be best sustained by the implementation of human rights and development policies enhancing the welfare of all individuals.

This concern inspired the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Charter. The themes of human rights and development resonated in the 1966 International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development; the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These international instruments suggest that human rights and development are not just about statistics-they encompass economic, social and political processes and the diversity of individuals and countries. In other words, the international community has put human beings at the heart of all development programmes. Ideally, political and economic rights complement one another. Political and civil rights endow the poorest individuals with dignity and the moral and political freedom to choose their rulers , but economic progress can strengthen the political, administrative and legal institutions through which all human rights will be translated into practice. On the other side, development without or with very restricted political and civil rights denies fundamental freedoms; indeed, the events that led to the end of the cold war showed that many in the former communist bloc preferred to live "not by bread alone".

The agenda is complex and challenging, and only a few examples will show why.

Some 1.2 billion people live on less than $1 a day; almost half the world's population is illiterate; and in many countries the lack of educational opportunities deprives the poor of "life chances" and perpetuates human poverty. Development has meaning if it increases individual choices and participation, gives all citizens access to education and health care, and distributes investments so that the poor can become more productive and eventually escape poverty. Life expectancy, increases in income levels, and good healthcare facilities are all linked; the question is, how can they be attained more easily by those who need them most? The education of women also contributes to economic progress, for it can empower them and help them to gain access to resources and enjoy human rights. In addition, education for children enhances their ability to contribute to the economic progress of their countries, enter the game of life and play on fair terms.

How is all this to be done? There is no blueprint, even for a single country. States implement human rights and development policies. The United Nations and many Governments regard democratic governance as the most efficacious political arrangement for integrating human rights into development programmes. Democracy, based on the rule of law, embraces intellectual and political choice, participation, accommodation, mediation and reconciliation. The question is how it can better protect the rights of minorities, women and disadvantaged groups. Civil society can only flourish in freedom; civil society organizations can draw the attention of officials to economic problems in local areas and help to carry out development programmes.

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