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The Human Right to Development
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Human Rights & Development | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Human Rights and Development

What is the Human Right to Development?

Every individual and all peoples have the Human Right to Development, and to other fundamental human rights linked to and dependent upon realization of the Human Right to Development. Development is a comprehensive process involving sustainable improvement of the economic, social and political well-being of all individuals and peoples. Development aims for the realization of all human rights -- civil, cultural, economic, political, and social -- and for the greatest possible freedom and dignity of every human being.

The Human Rights at Issue

The Human Right of every woman, man, youth and child to Development includes the following universal, indivisible, interconnected and interdependent human rights:

  • The human right to economic, political, social, and cultural development which is sustainable, which results in a fair distribution of benefits to individuals and peoples throughout a society, and which allows for the realization of all other human rights.

  • The human right to an international environment in which the human right to development and all other human rights can be fully realized.

  • The human right to full and equal participation in developmental and environmental planning and decision-making, and in shaping all policies affecting one=s community and living conditions, at the local, national and international levels.

  • The human right to share in the benefits of scientific progress.

  • The human right to equality of opportunity and freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or any other status.

  • The human right to an adequate standard of living, including access to safe food, water, and housing.

  • The human right to work and to receive wages that contribute to an adequate standard of living.

  • The human right to safe working conditions, including adequate safeguards for pregnant women.

  • The human right to equal access for all persons to productive resources, including land, credit, and technology.

  • The human right to a safe and healthy environment.

  • The human right to the highest attainable standard of health.

  • The human right of the child to live in an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.

  • The human right to equal access to education and information, including reproductive education.

  • The human right to equality between men and women, including in all matters relating to reproduction, and to equal partnership in the family and society.

  • The human right to peace.

  • The human right of individuals and peoples to self-determination, including their right to determine freely their political status, to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and to have full and complete sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.


Human Rights & Development | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Right to Development

What provisions of human rights law guarantee everyone the Human Right to Development?

Includes excerpts from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169).

"Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization ... of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity.... Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for ... health and well-being.... Everyone has the right ... to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.... Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which ... rights and freedoms ... can be fully realized."
--Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 22, 25, 27, and 28

"All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. All peoples may ... freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources.... In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.... The States Parties ... recognize the right to work.... to ... just and favourable conditions of work which ensure ... safe and healthy working conditions....; to social security, including social insurance.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.... The States Parties ... recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take ... measures ... to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge ... and by ... reforming agrarian systems ... to achieve the most efficient development and utilization of natural resources; ... to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need.... The States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.... to education.... to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications...."
--International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Articles 1, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, and 15

"States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights, in particular: the right to work...; the right to the same employment opportunities...; the right to equal remuneration ... in respect of work of equal value...; the right to social security...; the right to protection of health and to safety in working conditions, including the safeguarding of the function of reproduction.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure ... the same rights ... to family benefits; ... to bank loans, mortgages and other forms of financial credit.... States Parties shall ... ensure ... that [women in rural areas] participate in and benefit from rural development and ... ensure ... the right: ... to participate in ... development planning at all levels; to have access to adequate health care facilities...; to benefit directly from social security programmes; to obtain all types of training and education, formal and non-formal, including that relating to functional literacy ... in order to increase their technical proficiency; to organize self-help groups and co-operatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities through employment or self-employment; ... to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform...; to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Articles 11, 13, and 14

"... States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law ... in the enjoyment of ... the right to work ... to housing ... to public health, medical care, social security and social services ... to education...."
--Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Article 5

"States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health.... the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance.... the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate measures to assist parents ... to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programs, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.... States parties recognize the right of the child to education...; ... to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual or social development...."
--Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 24, 26, 27, 28, and 32

"[Indigenous peoples] shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control ... over their own economic, social and cultural development.... They shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes for national and regional development which may affect them directly.... The improvement of the conditions of life and work and levels of health and education of the peoples concerned ... shall be a matter of priority in plans for the overall economic development of areas they inhabit.... Governments shall take measures ... to protect and preserve the environment of the territories they inhabit."
--ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, (No. 169), Article 7


Human Rights & Development | Governments' Obligations | Governments' Commitments

Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Right to Development:

What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Right to Development for all?

Includes excerpts from the Declaration on the Right to Development, and commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio, the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, the Habitat II conference in Istanbul.

"The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.... The human right to development ... implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination.... The human person is the central subject of development and should be the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development.... States have the ... duty to formulate ... national development policies that aim at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population.... States have the duty to take steps ... to formulate international development policies with a view to facilitating the full realization of the right to development.... States should take steps to eliminate obstacles to development resulting from failure to observe civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.... All states should promote ... international peace and ... should do their utmost to achieve ... disarmament ... [and] to ensure that ... resources released by ... disarmament ... are used for ... development.... States ... shall ensure ... equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income...."
--Declaration on the Right to Development, Articles 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8

"Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.... In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.... All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development...."
--Rio Declaration, Principles 1, 4, and 5

"The ... objective of enabling all people to achieve sustainable livelihoods should ... address issues of development, sustainable resource management and poverty eradication simultaneously. The objectives ... are: ...To implement policies ... that promote adequate levels of funding ... [for] human development..., including income generation, increased local control of resources.... To develop for all poverty-stricken areas integrated strategies and programmes of sound and sustainable management of the environment, resource mobilization, poverty eradication and alleviation, employment and income generation.... To create a focus in national development ... on investment in human capital, with special policies ... directed at rural areas, the urban poor, women and children.... Governments ... should support a community-driven approach to sustainability, which would include ... Empowering women through full participation in decision-making;... Giving communities a large measure of participation in the sustainable management and protection of the local natural resources...."
--Agenda 21, Chapter 3, paras. 4 and 7

"The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the right to development ... as a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights.... The human person is the central subject of development.... States should cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development.... The World Conference ... reaffirms that the universal and inalienable right to development ... must be implemented and realized.... "
--Vienna Declaration, Part I, para. 10, and Part II, para. 72

"We recognize ... that social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world and to the responsibilities of Governments.... We gather here to commit ourselves, our Governments and our nations to enhancing social development throughout the world so that all men and women, especially those living in poverty, may exercise the rights, utilize the resources and share the responsibilities that enable them to lead satisfying lives and to contribute to the well-being of their families, their communities and humankind. To support and promote these efforts must be the overriding goals of the international community, especially with respect to people suffering from poverty, unemployment and social exclusion.... We commit ourselves to ensuring that ...structural adjustment programmes ... include social development goals.... We will... Review the impact of structural adjustment programmes on social development...; Ensure that women do not bear a disproportionate burden of the ... costs of such processes...; Work to ensure that ... development banks ... complement adjustment lending with ... targeted social development investment lending;.... We will ... strive for ... 0.7 per cent of GNP for overall official development assistance ... and increase the share ... for social development...."
--Copenhagen Declaration, paras. 7 and 9, and Commitments 8 and 9

"The right to development is a universal and inalienable right and an integral part of fundamental human rights, and the human person is the central subject of development. While development facilitates the enjoyment of all human rights, the lack of development may not be invoked to justify the abridgement of internationally recognized human rights.... The objective [of development] is to raise the quality of life for all people through ... population and development policies and programmes aimed at achieving poverty eradication, sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, human resource development and the guarantee of all human rights...."
--Cairo Programme of Action, Principle 3 and para. 3.16

"We are deeply convinced that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, which is the framework for our efforts to achieve a higher quality of life for all people. Equitable social development that recognizes empowering the poor, particularly women living in poverty, to utilize environmental resources sustainably is a necessary foundation for sustainable development."
--Beijing Declaration, para. 36

"Sustainable development is essential for human settlements development, and gives full consideration to the needs and necessities of achieving economic growth, social development and environmental protection.... Human settlements shall be planned, developed and improved in a manner that takes full account of sustainable development principles.... We ... commit ourselves to ... creating an enabling international and domestic environment for economic development, social development and environmental protection, as interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, that will attract investments, generate employment, contribute to the eradication of poverty and provide revenues for sustainable human settlements development...."
--Habitat Agenda, paras. 2.29 and 3.43


For more information, please contact PDHRE

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org