Biennial panel discussion on right to development – 35 years


It is an honour to open this discussion, celebrating the thirty-fifth anniversary of the UN Declaration on the right to development. This panel represents an important opportunity to reflect on the centrality of human rights to development in a context of our multifaceted global challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities, setting back development by several years in many parts of the world. Weighed down by unsustainable debt burdens and their repercussions for providing social protection, many countries face unprecedented challenges, including the possibility of social unrest.

The war in Ukraine has brought about major human suffering and triggered additional pressures, beyond its borders, to already disrupted global supply chains, contributing to increased inflation and skyrocketing fuel and food prices.

While such impacts are global, they are not experienced the same way everywhere by everyone. In particular, women and girls have suffered these adverse effects in differentiated and disproportionate ways.

According to the IMF,1 global inflation will reach 6.6 percent in advanced economies and 9.5 percent in emerging and developing economies this year, further deepening inequalities within and between countries. By the end of 2021, while employment had returned to pre-crisis levels or in fact exceeded them in many high-income countries, deficits persisted in most middle-income economies2 with considerable underlying disparities.

The World Bank estimates that an additional 75 to 95 million people will live in extreme poverty in 2022, compared to pre-pandemic projections. Of 760 million living in extreme poverty, there will be 16 million more women and girls than men and boys,3 with the vast majority – about 83.7 percent – living in only two regions: Sub-Saharan Africa (almost 63 percent) and Central and South Asia (about 21 percent). Unequal geographical distribution is pervasive and compounds intersecting inequalities.

The confluence of crises has created spin-off effects on food and nutrition, health and education, the environment, peace and security, further undermining progress towards the realisation of the 2030 Agenda and jeopardizing sustainable recovery from the pandemic.

Already in 1986, in the Declaration, the Right to Development was defined as a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, aimed at the constant improvement of the well-being of all individuals. It looked beyond GDP as a measure of development, calling for integrated approaches to peace and disarmament, human rights and development. Underpinned by the principle of cooperation, the Declaration also called for creating an enabling environment through equitable international relations.

We now fully understand that, to be effective, policies for realizing this vision should be anchored in human rights, enabling everyone, everywhere to participate in, contribute to and enjoy the benefits of development in line with the spirit of global solidarity.

Your Excellencies,

Our Office has worked towards mainstreaming the right to development at national, regional and international levels.

At national level, we have sought to strengthen the capacity of our field presences to operationalize this right notably for example through a pilot project in Guinea and a national conference in Liberia. We have also organised Hernan Santa Cruz dialogues including at the regional level, in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have carried out a project on human rights, climate change and migration in the Sahel, which looks at the impacts of climate change on the rights, lives and livelihoods of people in countries affected by this crisis.

Through our capacity-building initiatives, in partnership with the University for Peace and the United Nations University, we have trained nearly 1000 stakeholders worldwide. We also commissioned studies and developed materials as guidance, including on realizing the right to development in relation to investment agreements and industrialization; illicit financial flows; renewable energy; and environmentally sound technology. With UPEACE, we developed a collaborative project on ‘Good Practices in Operationalizing the Right to Development in South-South Cooperation’.

My Office has also worked to integrate human rights in international policy agendas such as the Doha Programme of Action on Least Developed Countries. And we continue to support the Intergovernmental Working Group and other human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur and the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development.

Your Excellencies,

In his Call to Action for Human Rights and report on Our Common Agenda, the Secretary-General has called for a renewed social contract, based on equal rights and opportunities for all. Establishing a new global deal underpinned by solidarity and cooperation will help rebuild trust between people and governments, give priority to combating inequalities and create an enabling environment in order to realize the right to development and all human rights for all.

Today’s discussion offers an opportunity for us to collectively tackle some of these critical questions and facilitate the promotion, through multilateral approaches, of integrated solutions grounded in human rights.

I wish you fruitful discussions and look forward to your recommendations.

Public Release. More on this here.