Human rights approach to development and the MDGs: progress, set backs and solutions for the future?
In recent times, the development discourse has seen a rise of human rights language and initiatives linking human rights and development, including its work on the Millennium Development Goals and poverty. In 2000, the United Nations set eight interconnected goals (MDGs) which allow assessing the progress and determining what adjustments are needed at the national and international level to achieve those goals and engage nations in the development process and makes the right to development a reality.
These are positive developments in theory, but the slowness of the international legal framework to catch up to these ideals with solid legal provisions is somewhat disappointing. There is much room for improvement and youth will play an important part.
The current place of development human rights in international law.
A human rights approach to development will push governments, whether nationally or internationally, to promote, secure and protect the right to development in a country by adopting policy strategies to fulfill the claims of the right to development, such as “rights to food, health, education…etc”. It then has to accept responsibility for delivering the right on its own or in collaboration with others, adopt appropriate policies and provide for the required resources. At the international level, states party to the international agreement recognizing those rights, would also have the obligation to do everything possible to help in delivering those rights.
The good news is that the United Nation charter, the Declaration on the Right to Development and the Vienna Declaration have all spelled out just such international obligations to cooperate for realizing development. However, the right to development is not explicitly addressed in the ICESCR (International Covenant on Economic Social Cultural Rights) or other legally binding international instruments. In addition, the right to development as a third generation of human rights law /solidarity rights exist as a legal proposition and has been affirmed in the UN resolution of the general assembly and states conferences, but have not been included in an international treaty.
The mere absence of a separate provision on the right to development does not mean that the ICESCR would not be applicable to development?related claims by individuals. Article 6(3) of the Declaration on the Right to Development, for example, demonstrates that an interdependence of human rights remains valid in a development context and that civil and political rights are equally relevant to the realization of development as economic, social and cultural rights.
None of these rights have a solid legal foundation in a legal instrument at the global level. However, in recent years, there has been growing support for the notion of “third generation of human rights – solidarity rights”. This has been the case at the regional level too; the African charter for human and people’s rights, for example, has proclaimed the right to development and the right to peace and security as well as the right to a general satisfactory environment.
Today, many uncertainties still surround third generation of rights and hamper their implementation, including the right to development. As long as they are not explicitly spelled out in international legal language, it will be difficult to put forth an action plan on ways to claim them.
New Paths to meet the MDGs?
The MDG evaluation report shows that most of the objectives will not be reached, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. Does this spell the failure of the MDGs? I don’t think so. The progress has been very slow, but one should think innovatively about ways to advance these goals in the future. A human rights approach could help us do just that.
For starters, democratic institutions, NGOs and public litigation agencies could play a vital role in creating and enacting a much needed action program to legally instate a positive right to development. In addition, monitoring agencies and consultative forums should enforce obligations of the international community, their agencies and governments, to cooperate in fulfilling the rights as envisaged in the right to development. It is important to hold a forum where international agencies and concerned governments could get together and talk to each other. Furthermore, a transparent consultation mechanism, subject to the democratic pressure of public opinion, will play a much more significant role in enforcing institutional agreements.
More importantly, engaging youth and offering sufficient participation at the level of policy decision making is vital to facing the challenges of the 21st century (poverty, hunger, violence, missed opportunities, unemployment, lack of education). It is important for governments and international institutions to offer representation and successful solutions. Today’s powerful youth generation is breaking the traditional political participation and going beyond voting. They are organizing via social and internet networks, including a north and south representation, and breaking territorial borders. This challenges not only domestic laws, but international laws in demanding their right to development and in the post MDG world, the international legal framework needs to keep up.
By Zineb Benalla
 Koen de Feyter, World Development Law: Sharing Responsibility for Development, p. 262 (2001).