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Declaration on the Right to Development at 25


According to the latest UN Human Development Report, the number of malnourished people has increased from 850 million in 1980 to about 1 billion worldwide today. Despite over thirty years of technological progress and ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources, 150 million more people are now malnourished.

Rampant poverty and stark inequalities, both within and across countries, serve as a constant reminder that the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the fundamental principles of international human rights law it subsequently inspired, and indeed the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development remain empty words for far too many people, especially those belonging to marginalized groups.

A right that addresses contemporary challenges

Basic requirements of the UN Declaration on the Right to Development:

  • putting people at the center of development
  • ensuring free, active and meaningful participation
  • securing non-discrimination
  • fairly distributing the benefits of development
  • respecting self-determination, and sovereignty over natural resources
  • all in a process that advances other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights

Born at the end of the colonial era, the Declaration on the Right to Development remains highly relevant today. The right to development embodies the human rights principles of equality, non-discrimination, participation, transparency and accountability as well as international cooperation. These along with the basic requirements of the Declaration (see box) can guide our responses to a series of contemporary issues and challenges, including climate change and the quest for sustainable development, the stalled Doha Development Round of trade negotiations, development cooperation, Aid for Trade, debt relief, technology transfer, foreign direct investment, the democratic deficit, weak governance, the Millennium Development Goals and the need to reform international financial institutions.

The right to development is not about charity, but enablement and empowerment. The Declaration identifies obstacles to development, empowers individuals and peoples, calls for an enabling environment and good governance at both national and international levels, and enhances accountability of duty bearers - governments, donors and recipients, international organizations, transnational corporations, and civil society.

Act together now

“States have the duty to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development,” says the Declaration. While there are hard-won development gains, the international community has yet to fully utilize the potential of the Declaration, partly due to politicization and polarization.

“The Right to Development can be realized only when there is a solid national and international accountability framework for development that respects social justice and human rights. Let us return to the hopeful and principled message of the Declaration itself – in a spirit of reasoned compromise and with a sense of the vital mission at hand, and focus our efforts on making the right to development a reality for all.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

During this 25th anniversary in 2011, the United Nations Human Rights office (OHCHR) seeks to raise awareness, enhance understanding and promote dialogue on the right to development through a series of events and public information activities.