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Zhang Wei* and Gudmundur Alfredsson**

As pointed out by Professor Wang Xigen of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in his Introduction to this book, more than 30 years after the adoption of the UNDeclaration on the Right to Development (drd), the meaning of the right is still subject to different views and a lively debate. As a result, States are not implementing it and international organizations are by and large not monitoring State compliance with the right. In this preface, we look at some of the reasons and raise some of the same questions as Professor Wang. If the drd is to succeed, responses to these questions are necessary.

Several schools of thought have emerged over the years about the international contents of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development. One school is about the right of developing peoples and countries to be developed, including the transfers of funding and technology from developed to developing countries. A second school is about respect for human rights in the development process, or a human rights-based approach to development, similar to what undp and other multilateral and bilateral development agencies have been pursuing, and a third related school is about the elevation of economic, social and cultural rights to the level of protection available for civil and political rights. All three schools of thought appear explicitly or implicitly among the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals1 which presumably helps explain the broad agreement to the Goals.

There are significant overlaps between the three schools. For example, all of them can play a role in poverty reduction—but there are also differences. Under the first school of thought as listed above, if it is a right, the transfers would constitute legal obligations. If the bar is set high, the implementation of the drd could be costly both at home and abroad. Rich countries of the North and West have resisted this approach. With trillions of dollars in the bank, with a space program and so on, would China be willing, now or later, to come up with the resources necessary for her part? And how would the transfers be defined; would cost contributions to the Belt and Road Initiative qualify as such? Still, this school of thought is closest to the original intention of the drd, it expands on Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and it is the only option adding value to the existing international standards.

Furthermore, with regard to the second school of thought, it can be argued that it is unnecessary, as a series of existing international human rights instruments already demand respect for human rights in the development process by both recipient and donor countries as well as the organizations involved. And the third school of thought can also be seen as unnecessary if one looks at the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action2 and at the subsequent steps taken to elevate and strengthen economic, social and cultural rights. These steps include the creation of new special procedures and the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opening the door to complaints.

Peoples are one of the chief beneficiaries of the right to development. The term “peoples” usually stands for the entire population of a country, irrespective of ethnic and religious composition. The peoples are presumably represented by governments, but the same governments represent the States which hold the obligations of respecting, fulfilling and protecting the drd. How do the two carry out meaningful and effective communications? Is that type of process credible? In addition to governments, who else can represent the people, communities, minorities and/or non-governmental organizations?

Still further questions arise in connection with the right to development, be it the first school or any other interpretations. Does the drd have both international and domestic applications? The international dimension is obvious, but should the drd also be part of domestic law? After all, the Vienna Declaration in paragraph 10.5 spells out that “Lasting progress towards the implementation of the right to development requires effective development policies at the national level, as well as equitable economic relations and a favorable economic environment at the international level.” Notwithstanding repeated attempts at bringing about national implementation and international monitoring, little or no progress has been made.

How should the national dimension be accomplished? Why have so few countries expressly addressed this issue in domestic legislation? Lessons can be learned from the instances where the African Commission and the African Court of Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights have made use of the drd under Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights: “1. All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind. 2. States shall have the duty, individually or collectively, to ensure the exercise of the right to development.”

Most notably, the African courts have employed the drd to protect the culture and way of life of indigenous and tribal peoples.3 We therefore particularly like Professor Wang’s comments on vulnerable groups in his introduction to the present book: “In order to eliminate the developmental differences, it is imperative to safeguard the right to development of vulnerable groups, for instance people living in rural areas, mountain areas, ethnic minority areas, protected areas. Therefore, it is necessary to propose … the right to regional development and establish a legal system to implement this right.” He adds that among these would be the principles of balanced interests and social justice.

When governments or other actors use funds and technology received through the drd, how does one ensure that the benefits actually reach the people, like the elimination of (extreme) poverty and an adequate standard of living? Could or should the good governance guidelines concerning transparency, accountability, responsiveness and non-corruption, as initially developed by the international financial institutions and development agencies, play a role in order to make sure that people benefit? Resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council4 and publications of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights5 now expressly acknowledge the links between human rights, good governance and development.

In light of these and other questions concerning the meaning and use of the right to development, additional elaboration and even the setting of new standards is likely to continue in the years ahead. The chapters in this book demonstrate and elaborate on many of the issues and approaches that will influence and shape this process. The Institute for Human Rights at China University of Political Science and Law (cupl) is grateful to the China Society for Human Rights Studies for the opportunity to publish these materials originating in conferences organized by the Society. The chapters reflect the current thinking in official circles in China, as to both law and policy, on the right to development and thus serve as good indications of up-and-coming positive and proactive Chinese positions in future drafting debates.

*Zhang Wei, Professor at China University of Political Science and Law (cupl), Co-Director of the Institute for Human Rights at cupl, and Editor-in-Chief of the present book series on Chinese Perspectives on Human Rights and Good Governance.
**Gudmundur Alfredsson, Law Professor at the Institute for Human Rights at cupl and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the present book series.
1For the UN Sustainable Development Goals, please see
2Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, paragraphs 1, 5, 10.
3See for example, the case affecting the Ogiek Community and other settlers of the Mau Forest in Kenya, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights v. Republic of Kenya, Judgement by the Court of May 27, 2017, paras. 207–211, available at’%20Rights%20v.%20the%20Republic%20of%20Kenya.pdf.
4See for example, hrc Resolutions 7/11 and 19/20 entitled “The Role of Good Governance in the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.”
5See Good Governance Practices for the Protection of Human Rights, UN publication HR/PUB/07/4, sales no. E.07.XIV.10, 2007, and The Human Rights Case Against Corruption, UN publication HR/NONE/2013/120, 2013. See also

The Right to Development

Sustainable Development and the Practice of Good Governance


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