No Development without Human Rights. (RightsWatch)

By Dias, Clarence J. | UN Chronicle, September 1, 2002 | Go to article overview

No Development without Human Rights. (RightsWatch)


Dias, Clarence J., UN Chronicle


Human rights and development are, and ought to be, complementary. Development, especially sustainable human development, is a key strategy for achieving the progressive realization of human rights, notably the right to an adequate standard of living. Processes and activities of development that do not respect human rights (e.g. by inflicting environmental harms or forced resettlement) are indeed perverse development. Hence, the UN Charter sets out three closely interrelated goals of peace, development and human rights. Without peace, of course, there can be no development, and systematic violation of human rights inevitably leads to conflicts and breach of peace.

Despite the obviousness of the above, development as it has been practised during the first four development decades has in many parts of the developing world overtaken poverty as the single largest cause of human rights violations. In recognition of this fact, the UN General Assembly in 1986 adopted a landmark Declaration on the Right to Development. In the years since then through the nineties, at a series of UN global conferences, from Rio to Rome, it has been repeatedly reaffirmed that the right to development is a "universal, inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights".

This article seeks to examine the relationships between human rights and development, analyze the content of the Declaration on the Right to Development, and reassess the role of human rights in development, especially within the current context of rapid economic globalization. The reason for doing so stems from the adoption in late 1998 by the United Nations Development Programme of its policy on integrating human rights with sustainable human development and the efforts made over the past year by the entire UN family to effectively implement such policy.

As stated before, human rights and development are complementary and interrelated. Typical activities in conventional sectors of development contribute to the advancement and realization of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, the right to health, the right to food, the right to education, the right to adequate housing and, indeed, to securing that most precious freedom--freedom from want. Moreover, civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech, association and assembly, ensure the transparency and accountability of development processes and are key to a meaningful participation in such processes and activities of development. The right to life and human security, and freedom from fear and from discrimination and exclusion, ensure against "perverse development" (to use the telling phrase of the late Ernst Feder), which aggrandizes a few while pauperizing the many: destroying communities and degrading environment.

The 1986 General Assembly resolution on the right to development encapsulates and makes explicit the interrelationship between human rights and development:

* It redefines development and makes the very raison d'etre of development the full realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It defines development as "a comprehensive ... process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals" (Preamble);

* It reaffirms the right of "every person and all peoples" to "active, free and meaningful participation in development" (Preamble).

* It reiterates the right to fair distribution of the benefits from development and the right to non-discrimination in development.

* It reiterates that people are "the central subject of development".

Over the years, the right to development has helped forge a consensus on human rights across North-South and East-West divides. …

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