February 27th - April 4th 2023

Item 1: Full-day High-Level Meeting on the Right to Development

(28 February - 1 March)

By Kiyana Newell / GICJ

Executive summary

"The Right to Development is not about enriching the few and exploitation of the many but rather advancing equity and justice for all", said High Commissioner of Human Rights, Mr. Volker Türk.  

During the Full Day High-Level Meeting on the 28th of February and the 1st of March 2023, delegations and panellists welcomed the 35th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development. High Level Panellists Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Mr. Volker Türk, and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave opening statements regarding the challenges of implementing the Right to Development. They highlighted the full importance of international cooperation in realising this right. The international community faces substantial inequalities, the economic impacts of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, and hindered efforts combating human-induced climate change outcomes. 

During the interactive dialogue, the delegates from South Africa, Maldives, and Botswana amongst others stressed the importance of the international community fully realising the Right to Development and specified efforts to ensure it within their countries. Furthermore, the delegate from South Africa insisted on the legally binding nature of the right to address worldly challenges. Additionally, the delegates from the Maldives and Botswana discussed their policy implementations to help fast recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the efforts made by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and member states to better establish the Right to Development and also create policy changes to protect individuals from economic shocks. Regardless, we note with concern that despite the efforts made, there is still much to be done in fully realising and implementing the Right to Development. Therefore, GICJ calls for action in addressing inequalities and improved participation from member states.


The Right to Development was initially recognised as a human right within the Commission on Human Rights in 1977 and later adopted by the General Assembly in 1986 as the Declaration on the Right to Development. The 4th of December 2021 marked the 35th anniversary of the Declaration (Res. 49/8). The Declaration established the Right to Development as a human right to which all peoples are entitled. 

The Declaration also envelopes not only economic progress but also social, cultural, and political progress to ensure the improvement of the well-being of everyone. Therefore, the Office of the High Commissioner is working on a draft of the Convention on the Right to Development. The Convention will not only be more binding but it will aim to implement a set of norms in which states could follow.

High Level Panellists Opening Statements

"People are hurting and the world is burning and the world cannot wait," said Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UNCTAD and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group. She opened her statement by stating that 35 years ago, the landmark Declaration on the Right to Development was a ground-breaking achievement for freedom, equality, and justice. However, in her remarks, she claimed that the Right to Development, although bold with visionary intentions, has yet to be realised by billions worldwide. 

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community will have to make sure that all people have the right to participate in the Right to Development as well as a fair distribution of benefits among all to progress to a more inclusive future. She encouraged member states to participate in this necessary process as they revisit the dialogue in September 2023 at the SDG Summit to progress the 2030 Sustainable Goals further. 

Mr. Volker Türk, High Commissioner for Human Rights, began his statement by stating that the "General Assembly's adoption of the Declaration broke new ground in defining development as a comprehensive economic, social, and cultural, political process that is aimed at the constant improvement of the well-being of all peoples". Furthermore, he illustrated that the Declaration demands fair distribution of economic resources within countries, especially within marginalised communities and indigenous tribes. 

The High Commissioner subsequently described the challenges the world still has to overcome regarding the SDGs. He noted that they are currently half way through the Sustainable Development Goals framework, and the goals have been "knocked badly off track" due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that inequalities have recently escalated to perilous proportions, climate change is currently outpacing our corrective efforts, and the war in Ukraine and other rising geo-political conflicts are sharply undercutting international cooperation. 

Mr. Volker Türk believes that progress through realising the full spectrum of human rights can "reverse this destructive spiral". In particular, he notes that the SDG summit in September is a crucial milestone to "turbocharge" the Right to Development. Moreover, along with the working group and other UN experts, the High Commissioner's Office is drafting a Convention on the Right to Development, which will make the Right to Development more binding.


Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, introduced his oral statement portraying how the adoption of the Declaration is proof of how participation is salient to implementing the Right to Development for all. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the drastic inequalities in health and explicitly obtaining vaccines. His statement emphasises the importance of the right to health for all, which is why accelerating action in implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals is in peril, so no one is left behind. 

Interactive Dialogue 

Delegations commemorated the anniversary along with High-Level panellists. Delegates such as South Africa, Maldives, and Botswana acknowledged that inequalities must be tackled for people to enjoy full development rights as enshrined in the Declaration and illustrated policy implementations to circumvent the impact of Covid-19.

The Delegate of South Africa introduced her statement by announcing that the Right to Development is a fundamental right encompassing economic, social, and cultural rights and civic and political rights. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has "rolled back significant progress towards implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development". She explained that because of the pandemic, it is now urgent to fully realise the Right to Development as a legally binding instrument to respond to global challenges. 

Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights bears testimony to the continent's commitment towards the practical realisation of the Right. The Right cannot be a concern for developing countries versus developed countries. Challenges such as poverty and inequality are challenges experienced globally regardless of their GDP. Lastly, She called on the international community to address these inequalities between states concerning the SDGs. 

The Delegate of the Maldives  explained during his statement how the Maldives were susceptible to the lockdowns during Covid-19 and lost significant revenue for the country. However, the country implemented fiscal policies to soften the shock to the economy. The safety net measures provided tax relief programs and debt moratoriums to persons affected. The delegation considers this contribution to the rapid recovery and annual average growth rate of 12.4 percent in 2022. Accordingly, in the statement, the country also increased the minimum wage, which positively impacted workers and increased the quality of lives of families.

As an island nation, the Right to Development and the right to a clean and sustainable environment are interdependent, in which their livelihood relies upon the delegation explains. Therefore, the delegation concludes its statement with a call to action by asking the international community to operationalise the right through multilateral and collaborative efforts.  

The Delegate of Botswana recommends that people should be placed in the centre of development processes, so no one is left behind in pursuit of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Accordingly, Botswana produced a national development plan called Vision 2036 to establish economic recovery in Botswana.

Botswana's primary focus is job creation and employment for the youth to stabilise its economy.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) Position

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the high-level panellists and member states for their commitment to the Right to Development. However, member states need to put in an exceptional amount of effort urgently to uphold the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Doha Programme for Least Developed Countries. GICJ calls on member states and the international community to recognise human rights equally, including the Right to Development. There must be economical, social, and cultural progression without anyone being left behind, and it should ensure a community-based approach that includes the participation of everyone, including NGOs. 

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