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The Right to Development
: Paradigm-Shift in Human Rights

by Raju Ramachandran *

Cite as : (1990) 4 SCC (Jour) 9

"What is good is not yin or yang but the dynamic balance between the two; what is bad or harmful is imbalance"
— Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point

"We consider the per capita contentment of people the yardstick of development. Gross national happiness is more important than gross national product"
— Jigme Singhye Wangchuk

In October 1986, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights came into force. One of its most noteworthy features is the incorporation of the Right to Development as a "peoples" right. It says "all peoples shall have the right to their economic, social and cultural development with due regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind" and that "States shall have the duty, individually and collectively to ensure the exercise of the right to development."

Later that year in December 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development almost unanimously, with the sole dissent of the United States of America. The Declaration as adopted was substantially based on a Yugoslav draft which itself reflected a consensus among the governmental experts from the non-aligned countries in the UN Working Group. The core conception of the Right to Development is the principle of balance between civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. The Western bloc wanted priority to be given to the former category of rights and the Eastern bloc sought priority for the latter.

The non-aligned bloc struck a balance by making the Declaration record that the two sets of rights are interdependent and indivisible and that equal attention and urgent consideration should be given to both sets of rights.

The Right to Development has rightly not been defined by the Declaration. A definition at this stage would prevent, to borrow Upendra Baxi's memorable phrase "the development of the Right to Development". Some idea of what the Right means is furnished by Judge Kaba M'Baye, now a Judge of the International Court of Justice and the First President of the Senegalese Supreme Court. While first articulating the concept in 1971 as the right of all men, he said "each has the right to live better". Almost contemporaneously Professor Carillo Salcedo of Spain, in a series of lectures on the international law of development said: "The right to development as a right of States and peoples must unavoidably be founded on the recognition of every man to a free and worthy life in his community. Every human being has the right to live, which implies the right to aspire to an increasingly better existence. The right to a full individual development which has made it possible to consider the right to development as an essential human right serves as a foundation of, and implies also, the right of peoples as underdeveloped nations to development. Their progress is only justified as long as development serves to improve the economic, social and cultural level of every person."

The UN Declaration on the Right to Development recognises that development is a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom. It says that the right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized. It makes the human person the central subject of development and says that the human person "should be" the active participant and beneficiary of the right to development. It enjoins States to take steps to eliminate obstacles to development resulting from civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

Among the other aspects which form part of the Declaration (and which themselves are declared to be interdependent and indivisible and are required to be considered as part of the whole) are the right to self-determination, a new international economic order based on sovereign equality, interdependence, mutual interest and cooperation among States, elimination of all forms of discrimination and social justice, equality of access to basic resources, education, health etc., disarmament and the conferment of an active role to women in the development process.

In the light of the Declaration, it is necessary to be clear about what development is not:

It is not mere economic growth;

It is not so much an improvement in the standard of living as a betterment of the quality of life;

It is not a right which the South alone claims against the North. Apart from the fact that the further economic development of the North itself depends on the economic development of the South, it must be remembered that the social and cultural decadence of the North makes development imperative for the North as well.

The Declaration shows that for the first time a holistic view is being taken of human rights. Such a view has emerged thirty-eight years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and twenty years after the adoption of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, all of which embodied compartmentalised thinking. (The futility of classification is shown by the fact that the right to self-determination figures in both the Covenants). The emergence of the Right to Development marks the emergence of the systems approach in human rights jurisprudence which is itself part of a worldwide paradigm-shift. It also shows the obsolescence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948: a document adopted at a time when most of the Third World was under colonial rule. The present effort attempts to place the Right to Development in its historical context, and to discover its philosophical underpinnings.
  * * *

In recent years, the "systems approach" has captured thinking in fields as diverse as physics, economics, biology, ecology, health and psychology. Fritjof Capra, one of its most prominent publicists, says: "The systems view looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration. Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or basic substances, the systems approach emphasises basic principles of organisation. Examples of systems abound in nature. Every organism — from the smallest bacterium through the wide range of plants and animals to humans — is an integrated whole and thus a living system. Cells are living systems, and so are the various tissues and organs of the body, the human brain being the most complex example. But systems are not confined to individual organisms and their parts. The same aspects of wholeness are exhibited by social systems — such as an anthill, a beehive or a human family — and by ecosystems that consist of a variety of organisms and inanimate matter in mutual interaction. All these natural systems are wholes whose specific structures arise from the interactions and interdependence of their parts. The activity of systems involves a process known as transaction — the simultaneous and mutually interdependent interaction between multiple components. Systemic properties are destroyed when a system is dissected, either physically or theoretically, into isolated elements. Although we can discern individual parts in any system the nature of the whole is always different from the mere sum of its parts." The integrative, synthetic view of human rights forms part of this approach. The choice is not between bread and liberty: the task is to ensure enjoyment of both.

The Newtonian, Cartesian world-view saw the universe as a machine and the human observer as something distinct from the observed. The discoveries of modern physics have, however, affirmed the view of Advaita Vedanta, that there is no dichotomy between mind and matter. In the view of the present writer, the distinction which has been sought to be made all these years between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights is ascribable to the artificial mind-matter distinction, with civil and political rights representing the rights of the mind and economic, social and cultural rights representing the rights of the body. (For the purpose of the present discussion it is unnecessary to take a stand on whether mind and matter are one and the same or whether they are in a state of perpetual complementarity). The West has traditionally given primacy to libertarian values seeking to emphasise the rational, cogitative side of the human person while the Communist bloc has sought to emphasise the fulfilment of physical needs. The cataclysmic events in Eastern Europe have underscored the validity of the holistic view embodied in the Declaration. One set of rights cannot be sacrificed for the sake of another, and more important, the denial of civil and political rights does not ensure economic development and well being either for nations or individuals.

In Tao philosophy, the Yin is associated with the feminine and the Yang with the masculine. They are seen as archetypal poles underlying the Universe. Yin activity according to Capra is feminine, counteractive, responsive, cooperative, intuitive and synthesising while Yang activity is masculine, demanding, aggressive, competitive, rational and analytical. The present world of ours is seen by Capra to be the result of a consistent preference for Yang values, attitudes and behaviour patterns. The current paradigm shift in the natural, physical and social sciences is seen by Capra as marking a reversal in the fluctuation between Yin and Yang in keeping with the Tao adage that "The Yang, having reached its climax, retreats in favour of the Yin." The philosophical, spiritual and political movements of the sixties and seventies are seen by him as counteracting the over-emphasis on Yang values and as trying to re-establish a balance between the masculine and feminine sides of human nature. Capra sees a natural affinity among the various forces of Yin which have emerged over the last two decades: Feminism, ecology, peace, ethnic liberation etc. In the view of the present writer, the Right to Development is an important ally of the Yin forces. Incidentally, it comprehends all the Yin forces just mentioned.

But the rise of the Yin forces must itself be seen in a historical context. That context is the civilizational change which is marked by what Alvin Toffler calls "The Third Wave". The First Wave was the agricultural revolution which took thousands of years to play itself out. The Second Wave was the rise of the industrial civilisation. Coincidentally, this is the period during which the mechanistic, Newtonian world-view was prevalent. The Second Wave has lasted a mere three hundred years and is now subsiding in the North. Toffler's Third Wave heralds the post-industrial society, which has also been described variously as the Space Age, the Information Age, the Electronic Era and the Super Industrial Society. The current crises in the world, whether economic, social, familial or educational are seen by him as the result of the collusion between the receding Second Wave and the emerging Third Wave. The South, in the present writer's view is poised to leap-frog a major portion of the Second Wave and hop on straight to the Third Wave. Every paradigm shift brings forth a counter-culture: The Right to Development is one of the most significant contributions of the Third World to it.

According to Toffler, Second Wave civilisation placed heavy emphasis on our ability to dismantle problems into their components and it rewarded us less often for the ability to put the pieces back together again; it placed analysis higher than synthesis. Third Wave civilisation is expected to see a return to large-scale thinking, to general theory, to the putting of the pieces back together again. The holistic philosophy underlying the Right to Development is a reflection of such thinking. Second Wave development was synonymous with a rise in GNP. Third Wave development should ensure a rise in Gross National Happiness.

* Advocate, Supreme Court of India. Return to Text

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