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Human Rights Review

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Follow-up to the World Conference on Human Rights, New York 1998

IV. Democracy, development and human rights, and the right to development

26. The World Conference forged consensus around the overarching concept of the interdependence and mutual reinforcement between democracy, development and human rights (Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, sect. I, para. 8). Since 1993, this concept has become a basic guidance for the international human rights system, and has been reinforced through other world summits and conferences, such as the 1995 World Summit for Social Development. Without sustainable development strategies to provide an adequate standard of living for all people and without democratic structures in place through which people can actively participate in the civic life of their communities, human rights cannot be fully realized. At the same time, respect for and observance of human rights is a precondition of sustainable development and democracy (see also chap. XII below).

27. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action reaffirmed the right to development as a universal and inalienable right, integral to fundamental human rights. The Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty-fourth session reiterated that the essence of the right to development is the principle that the human person is the central subject of development, and that the right to life includes within it existence in human dignity with the minimum necessities of life (see Commission resolution 1998/72 on the right to development). The concept of the right to development allows the ties between all rights to be recognized, and enables them to be perceived from the perspective of the individual's participation in sustainable development. Consequently, the right to development includes the place of individuals in society, their participation in running public affairs at national and community levels, their personal, economic and social security, and their capacity to determine and realize their potential.

28. As is the case with all human rights, domestic action is decisive for the implementation of the right to development. Some governmental reports inform about particular initiatives in this context, such as the adoption of national developmental programmes, special projects targeting poverty alleviation in specific areas or with regard to specific groups, and adopting a human rights approach to developmental activities. Several countries also referred to their contributions to multilateral and bilateral developmental cooperation, including provision of assistance, cancelling the accumulated interest on debts owed by developing countries, and professional training for foreign citizens. The Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and other United Nations documents clearly endorse the principle that each State bears the primary responsibility for its own development. However, sustainable development also requires appropriate international arrangements on the basis of which cooperation and assistance can be offered to countries and societies which need it. The 1995 World Summit for Social Development at Copenhagen, the International Conference on Population and Development at Cairo, the World Food Summit in Rome and the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) at Istanbul all stressed that the international community cannot limit its assistance to humanitarian aid but should contribute to sustainable development of societies if all human rights, including the right to development, are to be duly implemented.

29. The Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1998/72 adopted at its fifty-fourth session, affirmed that although a number of developing countries have experienced rapid economic growth in the recent past and have become dynamic partners in the international economy, the gap between developed and developing countries remains unacceptably wide and developing countries continue to face difficulties participating in the globalization process, so that many risk being marginalized and effectively excluded from its benefits. The Commission also affirmed that democracy had raised development expectations everywhere, the non-fulfilment of which risks the rekindling of non-democratic forces, and emphasized that structural reforms that do not take social realities into account could destabilize democratization processes. It also emphasized that democracy, respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, transparent and accountable governance and administration in all sectors of society, as well as effective participation by civil society, are essential parts of the necessary foundations for the realization of social- and people-centred sustainable development. The Commission further emphasized that the participation of developing countries in the international economic decision-making process needs to be broadened and strengthened. Arriving at similar conclusions, the Working Group on the Right to Development established by the Commission on Human Rights in 1995 noted that despite overall global economic growth, 89 countries were at that time in a worse position economically than they were 10 or more years before (E/CN.4/1997/22). An economic growth-centred approach to development is not sufficient to meet the challenge of severe poverty in the world, which affects an estimated 1.3 billion people. The United Nations organs and bodies have emphasized on various occasions that both national-level policies and a conducive international environment are necessary prerequisites for assisting those segments of the population that have been marginalized by the negative impact of globalization and economic adjustment. They have repeatedly addressed the Bretton Woods and other financial institutions involved in developmental projects, in particular in the context of economic adjustment programmes, to recommend that their activities promote the protection of the economically vulnerable.

30. The Commission on Human Rights, in its resolution 1998/24, also called attention to the debt crisis, and emphasized that in order to find a durable solution to the debt problem, there is a need for a political dialogue between creditor and debtor countries within the United Nations system, based on the principle of shared interests and responsibilities. Indeed, a concerted effort is needed to reduce public indebtedness, one of the biggest problems facing developing countries and transition economies. The UNDP Human Development Report 1997 notes that the debt of the 41 highly indebted poor countries totalled $215 billion, up from $183 billion in 1990 and $55 billion in 1980. The Commission on Human Rights also called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to pay particular attention to the problem of the debt burden of developing countries, in particular of the less developed countries, and especially to the social impact of measures arising from foreign debt.

31. In the years to come, a new mechanism established by the Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 1998/72 will monitor and review progress made in the promotion and implementation of the right to development and suggest relevant programmes of technical assistance. This mechanism will consist of an open-ended working group and an independent expert in the field of the right to development.

32. The basic link between democracy, development and human rights requires that all human rights be viewed as universal, interdependent and equally important. This means, however, that particular attention be paid to those rights that are currently inadequately protected: from a global perspective, economic, social and cultural rights still require better determination of their content and strengthening the means and methods of their realization. Therefore, various parts of the United Nations system have recently placed these rights on their agendas. The right to food, adequate housing, health, eradication of extreme poverty and respect for international labour standards (including freedom of association and collective bargaining in the area of labour, freedom from discrimination in labour, elimination of forced labour and exploitive child labour) are also subject to inter-agency cooperation. An integrated approach to all human rights has been adopted, inter alia, in the recent UNDP policy document entitled "Integrating human rights with sustainable development". OHCHR has launched a global technical cooperation project to support the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, and is taking steps to support the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Several seminars have been held to that end, including a recent expert round table on the theme "Benchmarks for economic, social and cultural rights", organized by OHCHR on 26 March 1998. The recommendation by the World Conference to continue the examination of an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with a view to establishing a communication procedure has been followed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. No consensus to begin the drafting process has yet been reached.

33. The Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty-fourth session, created mandates of special rapporteurs and independent experts to address the right to development, the right to education and extreme poverty. This will not only enhance the information necessary for the decision-making process in United Nations organs and bodies but will also help to focus the attention of the international community on these fundamental issues. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights proposed that the General Assembly's Second and Third Committees work jointly to implement the right to development by focusing on the elimination of poverty, with particular emphasis placed on basic security, which is necessary to enable individuals and families to enjoy fundamental rights and assume basic responsibilities.

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