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Economic, Cultural and Social Rights only ‘Goals’, says US

by Chakravarthi Raghavan

Geneva,30 March 2001 - Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are “at best” goals and not “guarantees” or “entitlements”, and the working of the free market is the best and fastest way to achieve these development goals, the United States has said in comments on the Right to Development and the idea of a development compact suggested by an Independent Expert to the UN Human Rights Commission.

The US comment is annexed to the Report of the Open Ended Working Group on the Right to Development which has been drawn and presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, currently in session. The report by the Chairman-Rapporteur of the Working Group, Ambassador Mohammed-Salah Dembri of Algeria, of two sessions of the Working Group and the Chairman’s Conclusions.

The report to the UN HRC has recommended the extension of the mandate of the Independent Expert for one year and asking him to prepare a preliminary study on the impact of international economic issues such as international macro-decision making, debt burden, international trade, market access, functioning of international financial institutions, transfer of technology, bridging of knowledge gap, impact of intellectual property regimes, fulfilment of international development commitments and migration issues on the enjoyment of human rights.

The Independent Rapporteur is Mr. Arjun Sen Gupta, a distinguished economist, former Indian finance secretary, member of the Indian Planning Commission and an Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund.

In his report, the Independent Expert had said that the UN Declaration on the Right to Development and the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action had determined the content of the right to development and established it as a universal human right, with both national and international dimensions.

National actions must hence be complemented by international actions which should be multilateral as well as bilateral and include technology transfer, access to finance for research and development and access to markets. Also the obligations of States and of civil society at national and international levels needed to be formalised.

The Independent Expert had also highlighted the importance of economic growth to the realization of the right to development. He also proposed the establishment of a development compact focussed on implementation of three or four rights in the context of poverty eradication, and establishing of body to monitor the implementation of the right to development.

At the meetings of the Working Group in February, the Chair had put forward draft proposals to provide a basis for further work, and this was modified and revised by him in the light of comments. While most members were willing to use it as a basis for further work, the delegations of the US, Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand raised objections at the final stages and tried to hold up and bloc any outcome, and wanted more time to consult their capitals.

After a suspension of the meeting and reconvening end of February, the Committee in effect adopted a report of its two sessions, including the Chairman’s conclusions (see SUNS #4853 for report), with delegations given the option of annexing their comments.

The chairman’s conclusions had said that the draft elements proposed by him for an agreed outcome of the session was accepted by a majority of the delegations as a basis for an agreed outcome, but that five delegations expressed difficulties with starting the negotiations, arguing they were unable to receive instructions from their authorities. The chairman’s conclusions had identified the five as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and the USA.

In its comments, the US has expressed its objections to the substance and process, and said on the substance: “...we continue to have concerns regarding the references to the proposal for a ‘development compact’ put forward by the Independent Expert.”

The “most fundamental flaw” in the approach concerning the development compact, the United States has said, “is the idea that economic, social and cultural rights are entitlements that require correlated legal duties and obligations.” At best, added the US, economic, social and cultural rights are “goals” that can only be achieved progressively, not “guarantees”..

“Therefore, while access to food, health services and quality education are at the top of any list of development goals, to speak of them as rights turns the citizens of developing countries into objects of development, rather than subjects in control of their own destiny.”

The US also insisted that States had the primary responsibility for creation of national conditions favourable to development and “the workings of the free market, supported by clear property rights and the rule of law, have proved worldwide to be the best and fastest way to achieve these development goals.”

The US also opposed the Independent Expert being given the task of preparing a report on international economic issues on the enjoyment of human rights, and this task was outside the mandate of the Independent Expert. Other institutions such as UNDP and the World Bank were involved in these types of studies.

Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand joined the US in opposing the Independent Expert undertaking a study on the impact of a broad range of international economic issues on human rights.

Of the other four in the “group of five” in the working group, New Zealand in its comments, expressed strong reservations about feasibility and desirability of the Independent Expert undertaking a study on impact of international economic issues on enjoyment of human rights, and that other institutions were looking at these issues, and cited as an example “that the WTO is currently undertaking a review of the TRIPS Agreement, where members have the opportunity to raise concerns.”

Canada said it too had concerns over references to the proposal for a “development compact”, and about reference to a “process of the realization” of the right to development. Canada wanted explicit recognition of the importance of good governance, democracy, rule of law, and right against corruption for realization of the right to development..

Australia preferred the “partnership-based” approach to development within the UN system and by international financial agencies and institutions, including the Bretton Woods Institutions.

On international actions for realization of the right to development, Australia complained of the “exclusive focus” upon primarily economic “impediments” to development since this implied that “globalization and the existing global economic environment is itself antipathetic to development and realization of the right to development.”

Japan insisted that the right to development was “an individual right” and not of a group or a State, and that it was not “constructive” to refer to the UN Declaration on Right to Development and in particular its most contested article 3. In the area of international strategies, while international cooperation was vital, its function was merely to support the efforts of developing countries.

For good measure, Japan used the opportunity to promote its WTO agendas, and said that for a nation to promote the individual’s right to development, an environment conducive to development should be created by developing countries “participating in multilateral frameworks, in particular WTO, and in the Agreement on Transparency in Government Procurement”, create economic conditions conductive to foreign direct investment. –SUNS4867

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) of which Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Chief Editor.

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