History of the
Right to Development

History of the Right to Development

As part of this three-part series dedicated to the Right to Development, which involves debt relief as a prerequisite for African development in the post-pandemic world, and looks at the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area to increase intra-African trade, the following gives a timeline of the history of the development idea – an idea whose time may finally have come.

1950: – The beginnings of a multidimensional notion

The UN makes its first reflections on development as including not only the raising of the standard of living but also the recognition of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

1972: – The Right to Development, a Senegalese patrimony

Keba Mbay, President of the Supreme Court of Senegal, then a judge of the International Court of Justice, was one of the first to discuss and theorize the idea of the Right to Development at the International Institute of Human Rights in Strasbourg (France).

1974: – The Right to Development, still a vague concept

The Right to Development is considered only under the concept of the Right of Development for decolonized and emerging countries belonging to the so-called “Third World”. With progressive Western thinking led by Professor Theo Van Boven, “A New International Economic Order” was demanded in favour of a redistribution of wealth. The international Right to Development is thus thought of primarily as a right of differentiation of treatment between developing and developed countries. It is claimed as a prerogative of the state whose realization involves the recasting of the international economic system, leaving aside the question of human rights.

1977: – The timid entry of the Right to Development into the international debate

The concept of the Right to Development is mentioned for the first time in the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (Resolution 4 (XXXIII)). The latter for the first time makes the link between human rights based on international cooperation and the requirements of the New International Economic Order.

70/80: – Development, from the prerogative of the State

After the triumph of an international economic order inspired by neoliberal ideas, the Right of Development as a prerogative of the State is gradually abandoned in favour of the creation of a (collective) people’s right and individual human rights (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 34/46 of 1979 and the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development of 1986). In this context, States are seen as the main beneficiaries of the implementation of the right to economic, social and cultural development. They will also reap the benefits of all human rights and individual freedoms to pass down to their nationals.

1990: – The Right to Development, an individual human right

In 1990, stakeholders in the World Consultation on the Effective Enjoyment of the Right to Development rejected the idea of making the state the beneficiary of a right to development and devoted itself to determining whether it is an individual or collective right. They point out, however, that it cannot be expected that states deprived of resources will take positive action in favour of this right. In 1993, while recognizing that the realization of development would require “fair economic relations”, the Vienna Declaration once again made the Right to Development “a fundamental right of the human person”.

1998: – The Right to Development becomes an international priority

The Economic and Social Council of the United Nations establishes a working group to study the scope and content of the Right to Development, as well as the most effective means to ensure the realization of economic, social and cultural rights in all countries, paying special attention to the obstacles encountered by developing countries.

2000: – A multidimensional notion of the Right to Development

The point is simple: states cannot answer to their primary responsibility of establishing the Right to Development for their nationals if they do not have the necessary tools to defend their interests in the international economic system and benefit from a fair distribution of the fruits of global growth. It is therefore from the year 2000 that the Right to Development is rethought and adapted to the reality of the developing world. The perspective that development is also a prerogative of states reappears. Thus, the right to development must be understood not only as a right of populations and individuals, but also as a right of the Developing State to be given the necessary means to make its voice heard in global economic governance.

2014: – The United States / African Union Summit boosts a new dynamic

On the occasion of an extraordinary summit between the United States and the African Union, more than fifty African heads of state are invited to Washington by President Barack Obama. The United States reveals its new economic and commercial vision for the continent. The summit testifies to the shift of wealth and power in progress to the benefit of African and developing countries, which now face the challenge of imposing an equitable redefinition of international economic rules. This issue is one of the major concerns of the Renewed vision of the Right to Development.

An aim for the future is defined in Resolution 67/171 of the United Nations General Assembly of 2012. The right to development needs to be established not only as a right of peoples and individuals but also as a prerogative of states.