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21st session of the Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development

Opening remarks by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

17 May 2021

Distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to address this meeting of the Working Group.

I see the right to development as a vital human right, and as integral to the realisation of all other rights.

Notably, its vision of development as a comprehensive economic, social and political process – including the empowerment of the most vulnerable and marginalised people – has inspired and underpinned the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

But as I noted at the first biennial Human Rights Council Panel on the Right to Development, in September 2020, COVID-19 has shaken the 2030 Agenda “to its very core”. 

The pandemic has exposed, exploited and exacerbated systemic inequalities and structural discrimination – disproportionately affecting the poor and marginalised.

The Declaration on the Right to Development calls for every member of society to be empowered to participate fully and freely in decisions. It demands equal opportunities, and the equitable distribution of economic resources – including for people traditionally marginalized, disempowered and excluded from development, such as women, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, older people, persons with disabilities and the poor.

There should also be equitable distribution of resources among all countries, including those lagging most the behind. The right to development demands better governance of global economic frameworks, including the need for all States to cooperate in fostering development for all.

Stronger work to uphold the right to development could certainly have averted or mitigated a large portion of the devastating harm that is being done by COVID-19.

I am hopeful that 2021 can be a watershed year: a year in which States and the international community will learn from the harm being done by COVID-19 and that those lessons will catalyse strong, coordinated action to uphold the right to development and all human rights.


Recently I launched a new global platform for a progressive dialogue on economic and social rights and the right to development.

The Hernan Santa Cruz series of discussions aims to renew attention to economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development, in policy-making.

My annual report to the Human Rights Council on the right to development outlines other activities by the Office to promote and protect this right – including the support provided by the Office to this Working Group.

Last year, in support of the Chair of the Working Group, we formed a group of experts to draw up a draft legally binding instrument on the right to development.

We also assist the new Expert Mechanism on the Right to Development, and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development.

Moreover, virtually all our field presences undertake important work to promote the right to development in practical terms, in people's lives.

Never has this work been more vital than it is today.

We must create robust systems for accountability, transparency, integrity, participation and inclusion.

We need to encourage and support strong multilateralism, shared responsibility and global solidarity.

We need to advance better health-care – including equitable access to vaccines – and very significant improvements in social protections.

We should encourage States to ground all efforts to recover from the pandemic in the right to development and all other human rights.

I wish you fruitful discussions of a legally binding instrument, and all other deliberations.

Thank you