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This speech was written for the 6th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development (EMRTD) of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, on November 1st, 2022.
Good afternoon, dear delegates and colleagues, and thank you, Mr. Chair, for organising this session and giving me the opportunity to speak to you today. I am here as a representative of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, a non-governmental organisation based in Germany with international offices in 27 countries in Africa, North and South America, Asia and Europe, implementing project activities in over 80 countries with hundreds of partner organisations, activists, parliamentarians, state and non-state actors.
The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung is a research centre for progressive social development. We provide a space for critical thinking and discussions about alternative political concepts and approaches to social transformation. To the end of a more solidary and just society, we campaign worldwide for the enforcement of global social rights, socio-ecological transformation, international solidarity, a just global economic order and positive peace.
Given this background, and after consultation with our partners, I would now like to focus on three themes: Solidarity, Accountability and the Threat to Civil Space.
Climate emergency, exploitation, wars: there is not much time left to contain the irreversible damage that is already causing dramatic socio-ecological crises, as the UNEP report “The Closing Window” has recently shown once again. Yet: climate change assessments are more accurate today than ever before, and we should take advantage of that. Our task today is to set the course so that we not only overcome the socio-ecological crisis, but also emerge from it with a just world.
Fundamental to this is economic justice. Even today, almost 50 years after the discussion on a New International Economic Order within the framework of UNCTAD and more than 35 years after the Declaration on the Right to Development, the global economic order is still characterised by colonial structures and by forms of domination and dependence.
Reforms of international economic relations to date have failed to eliminate the economic disadvantage of the Global South and to achieve greater participation in global prosperity. In the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic, inequality of social wealth has increased even further, as Oxfam’s 2021 report “The Inequality Virus” shows.
A just global economic order must not only centre on fair and sustainable trade policies, controls of transnational corporations and regulation of financial markets. It must also take the international debate on climate and development seriously. In the wake of COP 27 in Egypt, Global South activists call for a state debt relief mechanism or an internationally binding financial transaction tax in the interest of climate justice.
Also, the permanent violation of economic, social and cultural human rights by transnational corporations along global supply and production chains must be tackled by strengthening the international solidarity of workers along these value chains and thus the role of labour movements and trade unions.
In the spirit of global solidarity, we therefore encourage the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development to support the creation of a legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, the so-called UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights. Similarly, we recommend following closely the implementation of the WTO TRIPS waiver and the WHO pandemic treaty negotiations.
In our work around the world, we find that civil society organisations are increasingly criticising state-oriented national and multilateral organisations, including the United Nations. The reason for this is not only the lack of success in solving major social problems, but also the lack of accountability of governments and institutions to the citizens.
Accountability is enshrined in the Declaration on the Right to Development itself. However, as implementation and reporting are voluntary and non-binding, there is a lack of real monitoring and accountability. This exempts governments worldwide from the obligation to enforce the right to development. Greater civil society participation could help create governance structures that provide a clear framework for accountability and allow for better monitoring of development programmes so that their implementation is in line with the right to development.
Threat to civil space
Civil society is the bearer of democracy. But: the civil society space is increasingly changing in terms of who participates and how. While the space for progressive human rights activists is shrinking, the influence of far-right and conservative groups is growing. Conflicts over the use of natural resources and land, which are fundamental to the implementation of the right to development, are among the main reasons for shrinking civil society space. Trade unionists were killed in 13 countries this year, says the Global Rights Index 2022. According to Global Witness, 200 land and environmental activists were killed in 2021 – almost four people a week. This includes activists we have worked with for years and representatives of our partner organisations.
The shrinking of civil society space prevents civil society organisations from participating in policy-making. This risks excluding voices, reinforcing inequalities and hindering development processes. A strong civil society space is therefore not an option, but a must if development is to be sustainable in the long term and for the benefit of all. We would therefore encourage the Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development to expand civil society participation in the implementation of the right to development. The right to development can only live up to its name if the bearers of social struggles, activists, human rights defenders and trade unionists, play a leading role in the implementation of the right.
Please allow me a few final words.
As a critical think tank and as an international organisation, we try to develop and discuss terms and concepts globally. Central for us is to see the dialogue between social movements and actors from the South and the North and South-South exchange as the starting point for processes of change.
We therefore recommend using civil society structures worldwide to create an understanding of the right to development that corresponds to the right in its wording.
This understanding should also specify the kind of “development” that people want in their respective contexts. It must therefore be about more than the participation of civil society in state development programmes. It must be about thinking development from the perspective of people in their respective contexts. We therefore agree with what the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development in 2016: people are not tools of development, but development happens for the sake of people.
Eva Wuchold is the Programme Director for Social Rights at RLS Geneva.