Draft Pact at the UN General Assembly


After its 54th session (October 2023), The Human Rights Council decided[1], with 29 votes in favour[2], 13 against[3]  and 5 abstentions[4], to submit the Pact on the Right to Development to the General Assembly of the UN “for examination, negotiation then adoption”. Initiated in 2019 by the Non-Aligned Movement (comprising more than 120 Southern Countries), with the backing of China, and drafted by the Ad-Hoc Intergovernmental Working Group of this body, the objective of this Pact is the effective implementation of this right around the world[5].

While reaffirming the content of the Declaration on the Right to Development (1986), this draft Pact highlights in particular the right of peoples to self-determination (Art.5), the obligation of States to cooperate among themselves for the full realisation of the aforementioned right, while tackling among others, “the problem of foreign debt in heavily indebted poor countries” (Art. 13), and achieving and maintaining peace and international security, aiming for general disarmament (Art. 23). It is true that if these aspects are not effective, it is an illusion to talk about implementing a right to development that is worthy of its name.

The draft Pact, however, prohibits all inter-state coercive measures (economic or political), for the purpose of obtaining benefits, which compromised the sovereignty of the State concerned (Art. 14) and provides for special or corrective measures for countries in need (Art. 15). Autochthonous peoples (Art.17) and peasants (Art. 18) aren’t being forgotten, nor are efforts to prevent and combat corruption (Art. 19). It provides for the creation of a Conference of States Parties (Art. 26) and a compliance mechanism (Art. 28), made up of independent experts, for monitoring its implementation in a way that is “non-accusatory and non-punitive”.

Certain Latin American states abstained, arguing that the draft wasn’t “mature” although it has been debated for five years, not to mention the discussions conducted within the Inter-governmental Working Group, since it was established (1998) on the effective implementation of this right. Others, for example Mexico, expressed their “reservations” about adopting such a binding instrument on this topic, aligning de facto with the western stance. It is worth noting that Brazil, which holds similar views, seems to have changed its stance this year, given that it is now supporting the adoption of the aforementioned Pact, joining countries such as Bolivia, Cuba, and Venezuela which have been committed since the beginning, in favour of this procedure.

When it comes to the western camp and its close allies, they have clearly opposed the adoption of such an instrument, putting forward the same misleading arguments that they have been using for several years. Among these arguments is the fact that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are broadly sufficient to respond the concerns expressed. They omit to add that these are merely goals and do not challenge the current trade and economic policies that are the cause of growing inequalities (See CETIM Bulletin No. 59, June 2019). Furthermore, as the UN Secretary General recently recognised, these goals will not be achieved, which confirms our analysis that without a structural change of the unfair international order, these SDGs are destined be worth little more than the paper they are written on.

This camp talks itself up as being the champions of the world in “aiding development”, leaving out this is determined by the beneficiaries. Aside from this, it’s worth remembering that the right to development has nothing to do with development “aid”. In fact, this right is not limited to the economic aspect, it also includes political, cultural and social development. Individuals and people are both the subject of this right and the central actors in creating policies and programmes for its realisation. The right to self-determination and people’s right to sovereignty over their resources and their future is at the heart of the right to development.

The United States and the United Kingdom went even further, arguing the existence of the right to development and collective rights contained in the draft Pact, to justify their no vote. These are also misleading arguments. In fact, on the one hand, these countries came to a consensus on the right to development in 1993, during the 2nd global conference on human rights, and on the other hand, the UN bodies have recognised and reaffirmed several times that there are two dimensions to human rights: individual and collective. Furthermore, how can rights such as the right to self-determination, to association, or cultural rights be enjoyed while ignoring their collective aspect?

It is clear that it is not possible to satisfy every State in the multilateral framework of the UN. The goal in this type of commitment is to find the largest common denominator, above the partisan stances of any one State, so that the public bodies can implement it on a national and international scale. We have to ask ourselves, aren’t all these “arguments” just aiming to maintain the established order to serve the minority…

Fighting for more than twenty years for the effective implementation of the right to development, in September 2022, the CETIM launched a cooperation and convergence plan with a series of social movements for the promotion of the right to self-determined and decolonised development. Aside from its undertakings at UN institutions dedicated to this file, we are participating in national and international meetings, and also organising conferences, seminars or workshops with social movements and other global organisations to educate people and disseminate this right.

[1]      Cf. Resolution A/HRC/RES/54/18, adopted on the 12th October 2023.

[2]      Algeria, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Ivory Coast, Cuba, United Arab Emirates, Eritrea, Gabon, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Morocco, Nepal, South Africa , Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Vietnam.

[3]      Belgium, Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Romania, United Kingdom, Ukraine and the United States.

[4]      Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Paraguay.

[5]      Cf. Resolution A/HRC/RES/50, dated 18th of July 2023.

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