The Politics Underpinning the Non-realisation of the Right to Development

AuthorBelachew Mekuria Fikre
Position(LL.B, M.Sc., LL.M, M.A, PhD Candidate), Addis Ababa University - Center for Human Rights
Belachew Mekuria Fikre
The right to development stands out as one of the controversial rights ever
since its articulation in the 1970s. The adoption of the 1986 United Nations
Declaration on the Right to Development underlines the importance of
international cooperation for it to be realised. I argue that the emphasis on
‘development aid’ rather than the broader ‘development cooperation’ has
contributed a great deal to the politicisation of the right and consequently
undermined its materialisation. Indeed, there is the need for semantic and
conceptual clarity in the use of the term ‘international assistance and
cooperation’ that has deceptively supplanted ‘international cooperation.’ While
the former is a term used under Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights with a view to laying down the broader
States Parties’ obligations, the latter is what the Declaration on the Right to
Development exclusively employs. I argue that even if development assistance
is indispensable, taking it as the sole approach to the realisation of the right to
development is both wrong and unhelpful.
Key words:
Right to development; international assistance and cooperation; the New
International Economic Order; the Declaration on the Right to Development
The right to development has been on the agenda during the last decades; but we
are still far behind any meaningful move and we are rather engaged in counting
votes1 as to who are in favour, against, or indifferent to the various global
initiatives concerning this right. As gross an assertion as the phrase ‘any
meaningful move’ might appear, there is sufficient evidence that one can put
forward to prove even bigger generalisations.
(LL.B, M.Sc., LL.M, M.A, PhD Candidate), Addis Ababa University – Center for
Human Rights. I would like to thank Dr. Takele Soboka Bulto (Australian National
University) for his views after reading the first draft of this manuscript.
To borrow Laure-Helene’s words in her report to the DFID, voting is a ‘public
acknowledgment of the lack of consensus’. See The Right to Development: A Review
of the Current State of the Debate for the Department of International Development,
April 2002, p 16.
Differences exist among world states concerning this right that range from
challenging its very existence to the peripheral issues of identifying who may be
regarded as the right and/or duty holders. Beginning from its early periods of
recognition, the right to development has been thought as the resurrection of the
‘New International Economic Order,’2 in which the developing countries
insisted on improved terms of trade, heightened development assistance and
tariff reductions by the developed world. These demands necessitated the
‘reordering’ of the dominant international economic arrangements that were
characterised by:
[t]he division of the world into exporters of primary products and exporters of
manufactures; the adverse factoral terms of trade for the products of the
developing countries; the dependence of the developing countries on the
developed for finance; the dependence of the developing countries on the
developed for their engine of growth.3
There was thus skepticism on the part of various countries in the Global North
that the Right to Development was meant to bring back the notion of the New
International Economic Order through the back-door. The ‘north’ block had thus
to be given assurances through the delegates in the drafting Committee of the
Declaration on the Right to Development that this would not be so.4 Stephen
Marks had explained this fact as follows:
Key Western delegations made it clear to the other members of the drafting
group that they would ensure that the declaration on the right to development was
not used as a means of resuscitating New International Economic Order. Nor
would they allow the declaration to create any entitlement to a transfer of
resources; aid was a matter of sovereign decision of donor countries and could
not be subject to binding rules under guise of advancing every human being’s
right to development.5
2 There have always been strong opponents to the so called New International Economic
Order who even argued that ‘it is not New; it is not International; it is not Economic;
and it is not Order’ thereby challenging its basic content and relevance. See, for
example, the lecture by J G., Harry, ‘The New International Economic Order,’ 5,Oct.
1976, the Woodward Court Lecture at the University of Chicago, Selected Papers No.
49 page 3; see also generally Grunel, Herbert G., ‘The case against the New
International Economic Order,’ Review of World Economics, Vol. 113, No. 2, pp 284-
3 See, W. Arthur Lewis (1977), ‘The evolution of the International Economic Order,’
Discussion Paper 74, (Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University: New Jersey), p
4 See, Stephen Marks (2003), ‘Obstacles to the Right to Development,’ Working Paper,
Harvard University.
5 Ibid, p 2.

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