“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” (article one of the Declaration on the Right to Development, adopted by United Nations General Assembly on December 4th, 1986 by 146 votes in favor, one against [EE.UU.] and eight abstentions).

The globalization which is being imposed nowadays is characterized by a vision of human reality that is essentially individualistic and commercial, with no concern for the dramatic current economic and social inequalities, and what’s worse, aggravating them and making them even deeper. The hegemonic forces in economic, social and cultural fields and who also control the large media, have managed to establish the words “globalization” or “worldlisation” as the paradigm of the society of the future. However, the truth is that the model these forces are imposing is only limited in a large measure to a globalization of the capital market, together with its values and interests, in its most ultraliberal version (market “neoliberalism”). That is why the criticisms of this model are focused mainly in the marginalization of human, social and cultural aspects facing the preponderance of economic, financial and commercial aspects.

In this context, one of the main causes for underdevelopment lies in an excessively unfair and unbalanced commercial exchange between the industrialized countries of the center and the countries from the third world or periphery countries. The fact that a new international economic order was not achieved, as the peoples from the de-colonized third world countries of the 60s and 70s decades of the past century claimed, who saw and still see the present commercial system as a way of prolonging their condition of dependence, domination and poverty regarding the former colonial powers, does not mean that such vindication is no longer justified, it rather shows that the facts prove exactly the opposite.

Facing this prospect, the right to development is an uneasily accepted right whose elaboration is also difficult if we stick to the traditional concepts and schemes of rights: mainly individualistic, economic and bourgeois. Other human rights such as a large part of the economic, social and cultural rights, as well as some civil and political rights suffer the same kind of difficulties. Besides, the right to development has an individual as well as a collective dimension, doubting the alleged incompatibility between both dimensions, and in fact, it is a right that can be claimed by the poorest and most oppressed individuals and peoples facing the richest and most industrialized ones. Its multiple and different aspects have been developed and outlined through the consecutive world conferences organized by United Nations in different cities and countries of the world (Conferences of Rio de Janeiro, Vienna, Copenhagen, Cairo, Peking, Istanbul, Monterrey, Johannesburg, etc.).

Development as a Human Right

Today we can defend the thesis of the validity, although limited, and full legitimacy of the right to sustainable human development based on international law texts elaborated mainly within United Nations, on one side, and on the other, based on the culture and philosophy of fundamental human rights, and the universal values that inspire them. Likewise, the satisfaction of basic human needs such as food, potable water, housing, healthcare and education must be taken into account, although the way of fulfilling them can vary according to the historical and cultural context in which the different groups and individuals live. The fulfillment of these needs is a necessary condition for every human being to be in condition to exercise and enjoy all the fundamental human rights and liberties.

This way, every individual must be in condition to fully develop his capabilities and feel free and worthy of himself. That is why the final objective is to achieve the highest degree of human well-being and that the dignity of everyone becomes an indiscriminated reality, and not only for a few. In this sense development is a human right that includes the ensemble of human rights and shows the universality, interdependence and indivisibility of such rights, just like the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of 1993 declares, which was the result of the World Conference on Human Rights held in that city. This interpretation is in keeping with the declaration of the preambles of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted in the frame of United Nations in 1966, when it declares the following:

“That, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights”.

Among the objectives of the right to development thus conceived, is the improvement of welfare, dignity and standard of living of all human beings, as well as a larger economic and social equality, specially concerning the needs of the more vulnerable individuals and groups, respecting cultural diversity. In order to achieve this, the eradication of poverty is a priority task, and all the States must fully ratify the treaties concerning human rights. Likewise, the public and private powers must be monitored and controlled through democratic means and they must give account of their activities in a transparent manner, so that it can be verified if they have acted according to the law or not, thus facilitating the struggle against corruption and criminality. The achievement of a fair peace where the human rights of all are respected and protected can also be considered as an objective of development, otherwise it would be a make-believe peace which conceals a situation of oppression and violence carried out by the dominating powers. This is the best guarantee of security for all, which must be completed by a progressive disarmament that diminishes the capability of threatening and destroying, and which liberates human and economic resources for peaceful activities. Moreover, development must be sustainable, this means that the future generations must inherit and enjoy our planet in the same conditions as the present generations, and if possible, in even better and fairer conditions.

The obstacles to development

The hegemonic powers and forces present the present globalization as an irresistible, irreversible phenomenon and what’s worse, one with no possible alternative, as if it were an undisputable and revealed truth. That is why they try to justify economic policies called “austere” or of “structural adjustment” in the name of globalization in third world countries, which only contribute to perpetuate a system of economic and political domination through a tremendously unfair, unbalanced and unfair economic and commercial exchange. They are the “structural adjustment programmes” promoted by international economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), and promoted by the richest and more industrialized countries and multinational companies.

These structural adjustment programs, renamed as “strategies to fight poverty” trust that economic growth on its own will result in development. Such economic growth, if it occurs as these international economic institutions propose, benefits specially the most privileged layers of society and increase even further the dependence of the third world countries, which can be seen, for example in the permanent increase of these countries’ foreign debt. The interests for the payment of these debts are the bases of the paradoxical phenomenon that consists in that the flow of capital is nowadays mainly from the increasingly poorer and indebted “south” or “periphery” towards the “north” or “center”, rich and industrialized and not the other way around, as it should be if the process of global impoverishment that the present globalization of the market is degenerating into wants to be reverted.

On top of this, the Official Development Aid (ODA) of the States of the richest and more industrialized countries towards the third world countries not only does not increase, it is diminishing. And even if this official aid is not wholly trustworthy, the flows of private capital have not been able to fulfill the decreasing tendency not only in quantity but also in the “quality” of the aid. Private capital, due to its own nature, is more inclined towards mere economic performance and short-term benefits, as well as the guarantee that these benefits can be sent home by the financial and banking institutions where such private capital comes from, instead of reinvesting it in the places where the benefits came from and thus favour its development. All these aspects must be considered as obstacles to the achievement of the right to development.

All this enhances the fact that human rights and sustainable human development must be undertaken in a world that is increasingly mercantilistic, where commerce plays a fundamental role. Commerce and development are activities that must be made compatible, but considering that commerce is an instrument and development and human rights are an end and not vice-versa. Facing what the World Trade Organization declares and imposes, it is commerce that must subordinate to the individuals and the human groups: human being and even many natural resources cannot be reduced to mere merchandise that can be sold in the market for a price. Moreover, the benefits of commercial activity should be shared equally by all the individuals and human groups, taking special care of the needs of the most vulnerable individuals and groups. Finally, the idea that must guide this outlook must be clear: behind the conception of a right to sustainable human development as a human right is the ideal that liberty and dignity must be available to all men and not only a privileged few. Besides, it must be able to be carried out, that it, the conditions for everyone to satisfy their legitimate needs and fulfill their equally legitimate projects or life plans must be available. Likewise, not only the present generations must be taken into account, but also the future ones.

– Nicolás Angulo Sánchez. Holds a doctorate in Law and is author of the book El derecho humano al desarrollo frente a la mundialización del mercado, (editorial Iepala, Madrid 2005) [Human Right to Development facing the globalization of the market]. (http://www.revistafuturos.info/resenas/resenas13/derecho_desarrollo.htm)


Translation: Revista “Mirada Global”