UN legally binding instrument on the right to development underway


The North-South divide is once again evident in the debates on the draft Convention on the Right to Development. Despite opposition from the West, Southern countries are committed to an instrument that could orient the international order towards greater equity.

Following several delays induced by the pandemic, the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council’s Intergovernmental Working Group finally took place, albeit in a virtual format, on the 17-21 May, with the goal of examining the first draft Convention on the Right to Development1. Having already examined the challenges and debates at play within the said Working Group regarding the adoption of a legally binding instrument on the Right to Development in an earlier bulletin, in this edition we will focus on the reception of the proposed agreement.

Developed by a drafting group2 formed by the chair of the Working Group3, the legally binding instrument contains important elements and reaffirms multiple principles that should lead to an effective implementation of the Right to Development. It dedicates a chapter to the responsibility of States and International Organisations in addition to international cooperation within this field, the latter of which is of the upmost importance, given that without a serious and effective commitment to international cooperation, any effort exerted in this area on a national level may prove meaningless on an international level. That said, there are relatively few ways of bringing the legally binding instrument to fruition. For example, the expected implementation mechanism creates shortcomings that must be addressed. CETIM has participated in the debates and has offered several propositions in regards to improving the contents of the aforementioned project.

The Non-Aligned Movement, which features more than 120 states, and China have actively participated in the negotiations on the legally binding instrument. They have frequently made constructive propositions to improve the contents of the agreement.
Although the United-States, under the governance of President Biden, has taken the decision to re-join the Human Rights Council by submitting their candidature for next year, it has not been a part of the debates on the proposed agreement. Neither has Switzerland, whose absence has also been notable.

As for the European Union, it has established its opposition to the development of an agreement on the Right to Development since the beginning of the session and has not participated in the debates.

In other parts of the world, Mexico is the only country to paradoxically announce its opposition to the adoption of an agreement on the Right to Development, even though such a mechanism would benefit the Mexican People. In addition, both Mexico and Brazil have attempted to weaken the contents of the agreement with their proposals.
The 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council’s Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development will take place next November. We hope that the revised version of the proposed agreement will remedy its aforementioned deficiencies.


1 See A/HRC/WG.2/21/2 and its commentaries A/HRC/WG.2/21/2/Add.1 (17 January 2020).

2 Composed of Dr. Mihir Kanade (India), Prof. Diane Desierto (Philippines), Prof. Koen de Feyter (Belgium), Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay (Jamacia), and Prof. Makane Moïse Mbengue (Senegal).

3 Since 2015, the Working Group has been presided over by Ambassador Zamir Akram (Pakistan).


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